Cap’s Off to You!-Wajuppa Tossa (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring: Wajuppa Tossa

Protector of Stories, Guardian of Storytellers, Encourager for Good

Wajuppa Tossa did as much as she could to bring joy throughout Southeast Asia through storytelling. Yet, her enthusiasm stretched beyond and soon her name was known around the globe. Not because she wanted center stage. She organized at least six festivals in Thailand, supported three festivals in Korea, preserved stories from the Lao people – and this is just the beginning. When I heard of her passing, it was through the StoryTELL listserv with a touching ode from Margaret Read MacDonald. Then I saw much shared through Facebook–of people after people–influenced by Wajuppa Tossa.

And I wish I could do her justice. I never met her and was unfamiliar to an embarrassing degree – though working on that – as late as though it may be. I still wished to honor Dr. Wajuppa Tossa in some way. First, I ordered her book “Lao Folktales” that was also written with Kongdeuane Nettavong and edited by Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald. The beginning focused on the tensions of the Thai and the Lao people. The government insisted on the Thai language. Sadly, some people feared the consequence of speaking their own language or even having in their possession Lao texts written on palm leafs so they burned many of the stories that had been passed on from one generation to another. Wajuppa Tossa took it upon her to preserve these stories along with many others. Part of this included organizing or supporting storytelling festivals.

She worked at the Mahasarakham University in Thailand for 40 years since 1978 and then “retired” and worked full-time as a storyteller. Dr. Wajuppa Tossa thought first of the children in being proud to speak their native tongue and to know their stories. What she wished for the Lao people she truly wished for all people and all cultures. She believed in telling stories with your heart.

She was nervous to even call herself a storyteller until working with Margaret Read MacDonald. Once she had that confidence instilled, she reached out to others to call themselves “storytellers.”

When the Asian Congress of Storytellers was being formed, Margaret recommended Wajuppa to the organizers, such as Sheila Wee, to make the dream a reality. She reminded people “school is for kids.” While many policies and procedures are faced by teachers, the most important thing to remember is that the kids–the students–come first. Wajuppa always involved her students, which could be a struggle to make the logistics work, but somehow it worked out. To the delight of all.

In all this, Wajuppa had a sense of humor. She wished to laugh and have joy. She sang often, danced, and worked hard – many times alone – on the various projects. The festivals made the difference of launching the modern storytelling movement in Asia.

Dr. Prasong Saihong became a huge part of being there for Wajuppa Tossa. He was a student of hers and then became trained and turned around and shared that training for others. Yet, people have been impacted by Wajuppa. Feel free to share your stories.

Wajuppa Tossa said she wanted people to remember the stories, not her. But many will remember both her stories and who she is as an amazing human being. It’s not too late to know her.

Some video that I found featuring Wajuppa Tossa gives a hint to her ever-smiling and engaging manner:

Over two hours of memories and honoring upon her passing can be viewed here–

Still, more can be viewed:

Interview with a Storyteller: Wajuppa Tossa and Hans Laurens

Dr. Wajuppa Tossa and Dr. Prasong Saihong performed for the World Storytelling

Storyteller: Wajuppa Tossa, Thailand

If you have links to add – video, audio, articles – please share by emailing or commenting on this blog post.

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Wajuppa Tossa for her heart and determination to bring understanding to the art of storytelling, culture, and language. And she did. That legacy will continue to impact generations to come.

Wajuppa still has a story. You have a story. We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Jim Luter (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring: Jim Luter

Forever Friend, Stalwart Guardian, Storyteller

When it comes to Jim Luter, I don’t even know where to start. He came to the rescue many times over during the early days of Story Crossroads and even before the inaugural festival in 2015 and onward to September 2021. He saw the ideas bouncing around and saw the potential and always encouraged me to reach the ultimate goal of World Story Crossroads, an Olympic-level version involving the six major continents. He has been the energy that fueled the times when I was excited, frustrated, or anxious.

He was “new” to storytelling though always a supporter of communications. Jim Luter spent 38 years teaching in, and chairing, the Speech Department at Los Angeles City College.  When moving to Utah, he became the best of friends with John Adams. The two of them would rarely be seen without the other. I was privileged that both Jim and John served on the Story Crossroads Board.

Jim was equal to at least five people in how hard he worked.

Here is a sampling of what he did:

  • Helped at many booths to promote Story Crossroads including our “biggest” one at the RootsTech Conference, the largest family history conference in the world
  • Hosted several House Concerts at his Clubhouse that assisted in over a thousand dollars fundraised for Story Crossroads
  • Became a certified Master Story Facilitator with 16-hour trainings…more than once due to loving to learn
  • Taught many free 8-hour workshops at several senior centers – most famous at the Mt. Olympus Senior Center and the South Jordan Community Center – and did this as a volunteer and only accepted payment once but donated most back
  • Connected with 16 senior centers throughout Salt Lake County to keep them in the loop, personally delivered posters/fliers at these centers, knew the directors
  • Introduced and arranged for me to present at the South Jordan Arts Council meeting…leading for us to receive $5,000 and then received a couple more years of funding through SJAC
  • Personally attended so many House Concerts, Virtual Workshops, Festivals – even came to the 2021 Story Crossroads Festival: The Hybrid and made an appearance at the Murray City Park
  • Fantastic attendance and participation in Story Crossroads Board Meetings – and we always end our meetings with a story of which Jim did many times
  • Attended many trainings and networking events either in my place or alongside – including Arts on the Hill (State Capitol) to lobby more funding for the arts
  • Became one of the first dues-paying Story Crossroads members

I feel guilty to end the list there. What you see is only a hint of the hundreds upon hundreds of hours he dedicated to Story Crossroads. And that is over the course of about 10 years.

Jim surprised me one time in creating a poem on behalf of founding and dreams of Story Crossroads. Some of the best warm fuzzies came from that poem. In honor of his poem, I attempted one for Jim:

Stalwart and firm,

Determined and triumphant,

A man walks forward with faith.

Then embraced by story,

And then risen in glory,

Forevermore a person that shines.

I did get permission from his wife, Ruth, to post the following video links of Jim performing and conversing.

Jim tells a myth – as part of Story Crossroads Academy:

Jim becomes the Shoemaker Elf for the 2020 Story Crossroads Spectacular, all-virtual:

Jim exchanges thoughts with Clive Romney:

And what more can be said? Plenty.

I remember the most of when he stood by my side when I made the stupidest of mistakes regarding Story Crossroads. I met with Jim Luter and John Adams to share how I put Story Crossroads in danger. Unintentional, but still terrible. As I shared all the details, I awaited the disappointment. But none came. No, there was an increase of love. Both Jim and John stood by my side while I rectified the situation. They could then celebrate with me when amends were made.

It could have been the end of Story Crossroads. Yet, that love and devotion and the hope of what could be was what exuded from them.

Now look at Story Crossroads today. We have expanded programming, received consistent and increased funding, and reached out to multi-generations across cultures and languages.

If Jim – or John – had given up on me that day, I don’t know if I would have gotten past the dark times.

I learned that to err is human, and to forgive…well, that’s Jim and all the other kind people out there in the universe. And from failure come the greatest successes.

So thanks for always being there, Jim! Until we tell again!

And in case you want to learn more about Jim, here is his obituary:

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Jim Luter for his ability to give and give and give and be there no matter the weather – rain or shine – and bring a bit of heaven on earth.

Jim still has a story. You have a story. We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Wanna Zinsmaster (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring: Wanna Zinsmaster

Glitter Queen, Active in Heart & Body, Storyteller

I learned a bit a glitter can go a long way when thinking of Wanna Zinsmaster. I saw her at the National Storytelling Conferences, though never had the chance to truly connect or work together in projects. Yet, Wanna was an active one in teaching creative dramatics for 30+ years at the California State University Los Angeles in the School of Education. Here I lived in Fresno and only about 3 1/2 hours away. Learning that Wanna passed on lingered in my mind. I did not know enough about her. I reached out and learned more fun sides of Wanna.

Karen Golden told me that Wanna always wanted a baby grand piano. One day, she got it. Wanna never had age get in the way and pursued what she dreamed about. She played that piano and danced those fingers as much as she danced about in her apartment. When someone would knock on that door, she often danced to the door. She danced to the very end…though what is really “the end”? I am positive Wanna is dancing right now. With glitter. No matter the story told, she loved putting glitter on her face and sparkling for the whole world.

Debra Olson-Tolar noticed that Wanna was either Vegetarian or Vegan “for forever.” She watched as Wanna brought Tupperware of foods so she was “eating correctly” at the National Storytelling Conferences. Beyond that, Debra remembered that one of the last times she performed with Wanna. As Wanna served in the Navy during World War II, she still had her jacket. Despite many decades later, the jacket fit while Wanna told the story for the audience. Debra reflected, “Wanna has the most beautiful smile ever.”

While searching for more about Wanna, her website no longer was active. She passed on in her sleep on Christmas Day of 2020. Though, thanks to some sleuthing, I did find cache pictures of her website back from 2017 (clickable, too). There, I found a quote. As Wanna puts it, “My stories are not only for entertainment, but perhaps more importantly, to encourage listeners to live their lives with zest, confidence, understanding and gratitude.”

“Zest” is the right word.

I scoured the Internet to see a video or some audio to celebrate this zest of Wanna. Nothing. Well, almost nothing. I found Wanna’s YouTube Channel, but it was not of storytelling. It was of Wanna as an 88-year-old taking a run in a park. At the end, she hugged a tree. The person filming it noted her love of trees. She quickly agreed. I then remembered all the pictures of trees featured on her website. She loved to exercise and hike and be in nature.

Do you know of any video or audio that features Wanna? Perhaps she performed with storytellers, thus making it harder to discover? Can you help?

I did find an article in the LA Times that quoted many people though had some decent space for Wanna. It featured the 13th National Storytelling Festival (at the time of this blog post, NSF is about to have its 49th on October 1-2, 2021). Keep in mind, she said it was her THIRD time attending the National Storytelling Festival…after only 13 years in existence! She traveled from California to Tennessee. Her personality definitely comes through in the section of the article called “Spoke in Thick Brogue.”

On Facebook, Michael D McCarty said that Wanna hosted Doug Lipman’s coaching sessions in her home where others joined her in the learning. Later on, when Wanna “retired” (not sure what that means yet, but I am positive not the typical kind), she gave much of her “extensive storytelling library that took [him] 5 or 6 trips.”

Through more Internet searching, I discovered that quite often were Friday evenings called “Stories of Spirit” that involved storytellers Wanna Zinsmaster, Debra Olson Tolar, Nick Smith, Leslie Perry and Bill Howard. These were held at the San Gabriel Valley Red Cross Headquarters in Pasadena. These tellers were part of the Community Storytellers that still meets to this day – whether in-person or virtual. One of the founders of Community Storytellers was Kathleen Zundell. When Kathleen passed in 2009, the storytellers there named an award after here and presented it to four recipients in 2010. Wanna Zinsmaster was one of these recipients. She was the LA committee member and one of the recipients and presented by Michael D. McCarty during the opening ceremonies.

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Wanna Zinsmaster for her delight in life and being herself on and off stage. I look forward to getting to know her better some day when I, too, cross that veil.

Wanna still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Arthuretta Holmes Martin (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring: Arthuretta Holmes Martin

Heart-Felt Activist, Singer of Life & Beyond, Storyteller

I barely got to know Arthuretta Holmes Martin. I heard one story, and I wanted to hear them all. Due to events being virtual, the blessing came to enjoy her wisdom. And, oh what wisdom and insights! From the Maryland Humanities and onward to the Women’s Storytelling Festival, I soaked it in. I felt like I had a hint of what so many people already knew about her.

Every story revealed more of her history and view of life. True, the story could be about a great-great niece or other fascinating and important pieces of history. Then, she could surprise you with a personal workplace experience and end with a challenge to the audience.

When she passed away on July 3, 2021 due to complications of COVID, my heart reached out to the community and global audiences and especially for her family. She was only 63 years old.

Sometimes we learn more about people after they pass on than during this lifetime. I discovered that Arthuretta had a long-time fasciation with being a leader and studied Public Administration being inspired by Shirley Chisholm. Arthuretta served over 30 years for the federal government. Arthuretta noticed causes that needed to be seen. She had the skill of acting as well as speech. She participated in Toastmasters International.

She delved into history and enjoyed finding out the meaning behind words and phrases. In one of her stories, she featured a song by John Jacob Niles called “The Lass from the Low Countree.” While “lass” usually means “girl” from Irish backgrounds, in the 1700s and 1800s, “lass” meant someone of mixed race. Arthuretta then told the story of her great-great niece named Alma.

But are these facts or observations really enough to know Arthuretta? No.

I cannot do justice to her memory. I was inspired by the odes and memorials that Jessica Robinson from Better Said Than Done did on behalf of Arthuretta, and that included compiling a playlist on YouTube. Experience her stories – they can tell more than the short space in an obituary.

Including and going beyond that compiled playlist, here are some sites and videos featuring Arthuretta Holmes Martin:

Playlist compiled by Jessica Robinson/Better Said Than Done –

Obituary –

Blowing the Whistle while Black | Arthuretta Holmes Martin | TEDxWilmingtonSalon –

Chautauqua 2020: Q&A with Arthuretta Holmes Martin –

Arthuretta Holmes Martin’s website –

Integration’s Unintended Legacy | Arthuretta Holmes Martin at CURE’s 400 Years of Storytelling Event –

Jubilee Voices: Stories of the Underground Railroad (Sandy Spring Slave Museum) –

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Arthuretta Holmes Martin for her constant searching for knowledge and then sharing with others. She always gives out a challenge – and this is the time to respond if you have not done so already by the wisdom she has shared.

Arthuretta still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Diane Wolkstein (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Diane Wolkstein

Revivalist, Story-Gatherer, & Storyteller

Diane Wolkstein jumped into storytelling as early as the 1960s…and even then I would believe her upbringing and background could put her much earlier in the art. She was a professional storyteller before the National Storytelling Festival existed and was key in collecting stories and creating the foundation of the American Storytelling Movement itself as well as throughout the world. While I never got to meet her in-person or been in an audience, I am grateful to the many articles and videos to understand and celebrate what she has done for the art to this day.

Writing this piece allows me to reminisce as if I had met her. I notice how young she was when she delved into the art. I have seen that passion before. Though, more and more, I realize that this particular passion from Diane was enough to have small and simple things become great.

Luckily, anyone can get an idea of what Diane was like due to the documentary created called “Diane Wolkstein: A Storyteller’s Story” that came out in 2007 (she passed on in 2013).

From 1968-1971, Diane Wolkstein was New York City’s official storyteller. Yet, with or without that title, she constantly worked on building storytelling organizations and projects including the Storytelling Center of New York City. She established the tradition of Saturday morning storytelling at the foot of the Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park. She would be pleased that this continued even during 2020 and 2021 with virtual performances instead of pausing when in-person events were more possible. For over 60 years, this Hans Christian Andersen event has taken place.

She traveled the world. How can I even list them all? Everywhere she went, stories were gathered.  China, Africa, and Haiti – and the list seems endless.

She published many books, of which you can find them by clicking here.

My favorite of her books, and considered a classic throughout the storytelling world, is “The Magic Orange Tree, and other Haitian folktales.”

During one of the Story Crossroads Discord chats, we honored different tradition bearers. Diane Wolkstein name was one of the first mentioned with more than one person sharing moments with her. I admit…I was a little jealous for these people to have such interactions. Though, I look forward to chatting with Diane after my time on earth is done and my next adventures starts.

Marc Young shared that during the last 5-6 years of her life, Diane focused on researching “The Monkey King.” He was delighted and giddy “as if talking with the Queen of England” when she asked him to perform at the Hans Christian Andersen statue. Though, it ended up that someone else had to tell and she promised him they would tell again. That was in September 2012. When she traveled to Taiwan to study “The Monkey King” in December 2012. Then word spread around the world that she has passed on there in 2013. That performance with Diane will need to be much later than planned…in the heavens.

Here are some sites, videos, or articles featuring Diane Wolkstein:

Diane performing “The Magic Orange Tree”-

Library of Congress – Diane Wolkstein Collection-

New York Times article when Diane Wolkstein passed-

Diane Wolkstein and Stories From Many Lands, published by NYPR Archives & Preservation-

“The Storytelling Magazine” published by the National Storytelling Network honored her when she passed – June/July 2013

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Diane Wolkstein for her constant researcher and always wanting to go to the direct source for stories around the world. I have read so many of her books and still need to discover more of her adventures and learn from them.

Diane still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.