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: https://youtu.be/bHHP_7GJPhs

Jim becomes the Shoemaker Elf for the 2020 Story Crossroads Spectacular, all-virtual: https://youtu.be/vajhKRNlYFw

Jim exchanges thoughts with Clive Romney: https://youtu.be/iJeMFnr9y3E


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: https://www.mcdougalfuneralhomes.com/obituary/james-luter?fbclid=IwAR157CG4v7FgErixehL2sLGDVHWAb1xqUIY6_5rcSlcfiNb59lDcnfWcrBI


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!-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”- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YfZg6Tgpr8

Library of Congress – Diane Wolkstein Collection- https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/holdingsInfo?&bibId=19275563&searchId=23256&recPointer=15&recCount=25

New York Times article when Diane Wolkstein passed-https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/nyregion/diane-wolkstein-author-who-sparked-a-storytelling-revival-dies-at-70.html

Diane Wolkstein and Stories From Many Lands, published by NYPR Archives & Preservation- https://www.wnyc.org/story/diane-wolkstein-and-stories-many-lands/

“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.

Cap’s Off to You!-Ray Hicks (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Ray Hicks

Traditional Teller, Gentle Giant, Storyteller

Ray Hicks is unforgettable. Back in 2000, I got to hear him tell at the National Storytelling Festival. The tent was full so the front rows could not be taken. I could stand back and watch him and the rest of the audience. I had read so much about him, and I was witnessing a great heritage-keeper. He loomed over the stage, and even curved over a bit towards the audience – never seeming to stand straight up. His eyes gleamed as if to acknowledge the audience before him while simultaneously having a slight far-off look into that Appalachian Jack Tale world. As he spoke, his accent made it difficult to distinguish certain words. The more he spoke, the more I got used to his rhythm and speech patterns. In a couple minutes, I understood what he was saying and could follow along for the rest of the concert.

Many people have similar memories of Ray Hicks.

Ray Hicks was born Lenard Ray Hicks…but “Ray” came more natural so say. He lived on Beech Mountain in North Carolina. He was discovered as this amazing traditional teller and told at the first National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Working with a microphone was quite foreign compared to telling tales on the front porch. Yet, by the next festival – as he told at every National Storytelling Festival until he passed on – he had a handle of that microphone.

By 1983, Ray Hicks received National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. As you can guess, that is the highest honor for traditional arts in the United States.

Ray wasn’t the only storyteller in his family. In fact, he was the eighth generation storyteller. Being that he was the fourth of 11 children, can you imagine the tale swapping between all of them?

From 1951 to 2003, Ray lived upon the earth and gathered up Jack tales and hunting stories passed on from person to person. While working the land as a farmer or a mechanic, Ray got by though nothing gave him more pleasure than telling those Southern Jack tales. It felt like Ray had met this Jack at one time.

Others have many more memories of actually traveling to his homestead in the mountains.

Sadly, a fire took that home and the surrounding outbuildings on May 25, 2021. Click here to see that article.

Do you have memories of him? Need to get to know him?

Here are some sites, videos, or articles featuring Ray Hicks:

http://www.rayhicks.com – a most amazing tribute to Ray Hicks complete with videos, audio, and memories (and you can still submit memories)

New York Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/27/nyregion/ray-hicks-who-told-yarns-older-than-america-dies-at-80.html

Essay – Ray Hicks: The Mysterious Healer – https://muse.jhu.edu/article/434565/pdf

Los Angeles Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2003-apr-27-me-hicks27-story.html

Ray Hicks, from Local Storyteller to Cultural Icon: A Bibliography – https://www.jstor.org/stable/40934979?seq=1

The Giant Storyteller: Ray Hicks Tales Bore the Unmistakable Twang and Sensibilities of Early Appalachia –https://wncmagazine.com/feature/giant_storyteller

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 Ray Hicks for his opening of his home, porch, kitchen table, all the way to the stage to hear those fantastic Jack tales and family stories of from Appalachia. Thank you, Ray.

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

Cap’s Off to You!-Kevin Brooks (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Kevin Brooks

Giver of Time, Tech Guru, Storyteller

Kevin Brooks helped anyone who needed it. He was one of the “sons” of Brother Blue – the same who would yell from the audience, “That’s my son!” As Kevin did not have a father growing up, Brother Blue filled in that spot. I had known the name “Kevin Brooks” but wished for my family to understand Kevin better. When both Kevin Brooks and Brother Blue were to be honored as part of the Sacred Storytelling put on by the Artists Standing Strong Together, I hooked up the laptop to the TV screen so that my kids could watch with me. When “Tomato Paste” was shared, my six-year-old daughter threw back her head with the most lovely laugh. She kept laughing throughout the whole piece. This pure delight was already a gift that Kevin Brooks gave my family.

Kevin knew how to tell stories to entertain and then have that deeper message. A moving piece is “Clearing the Pool” about how some black people could not swim and many drownings caused Kevin’s mom to insist on her family taking a swimsuit everywhere. Though, something else happened as a result. In the Playlist on YouTube featuring Kevin, you can find out the rest. Powerful…and under five minutes long.

Five minutes. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes. Besides the stories he told, he dedicated much time to people. Forget five minutes. Often, Kevin gave his whole day to people. As Kevin was known as a tech guru, he introduced many storytellers to how to use emails or websites or the importance of videotaping stories. Tony Toledo shared that one day his ex-wife, who was Deaf, needed help in filming. Kevin stayed all morning and would not accept payment. When Tony and his ex-wife insisted, he would only take a breakfast.

Joey Talbert, a great fiend of Kevin, had long conversations and heard some of those “nuggets” of his stories – like “Tomato Paste” – and hear them developed into signature pieces. The two of them did adaptive and personal storytelling with City Rain Player that still is talked about to this day.

When Kevin Brooks was with Laura Packer, they connected through Brother Blue and particularly the basement bookstore where Brother Blue held a safe space for people to tell stories. When it came Christmas time, a party was held and it was nicknamed “Kevin and the Jews” and “Diversity Challah” was served. Kevin and Laura would cut up and share the bread and Brother Blue gave the blessing. They invited everyone no matter if there was room in the intended space or not. Several times, the space had to be changed to accommodate the droves of people.

When Brother Blue passed on in November 2009, the Story Space that was held in-person and created by him, had to be continued. Kevin and Laura quickly volunteered to take it on before the Board for Story Space took it over from there.

And when things calmed down, Kevin was the kind of person who loved eating outside on hot summer days. He and Laura.

Then cancer came. Laura was by Kevin’s side. And then…sadness.

We can take comfort is so much that Kevin still has given us. Laura was kind enough to maintain Kevin’s blog to be active. Then MIT has a webpage for him.

Yet, what was obvious on Sunday, April 25, 2021 is that many people still honor this fantastic and inspiring person.

Do you have memories of him? Need to get to know him?

Laura Packer was kind to share pictures seen here as well as this ode to him:

Kevin Michael Brooks, Ph.D. passed away on March 28, 2014 in Kansas City Missouri, surrounded by friends and family.

Kevin came to storytelling almost 20 years ago. He became a member of Brother Blue’s storytelling circle and then incorporated storytelling into every facet of his life. This included his dissertation work at MIT and all of his subsequent employment.

He was a man who adored his children, Stephan, Cara, Kristoff and Vered Brooks. He was a dedicated partner, problem-solver, lover and supporter to his wife, Laura Packer. He was a son who made his mother, Carolyn Brooks, proud every day. He was a reliable and loving friend to many. He was a generous and creative co-worker at Hallmark Cards. And his stories made his audiences laugh, cry and rejoice in the world.

Kevin’s warm and welcoming storytelling performances chronicled the life of an African American boy as he grew to manhood and became a father, a swim teacher, a friend. His stories often featured his mother and his children. His work as a story coach helped many others deepen their own storytelling work.

Kevin will be deeply missed by all who knew him. His spirit lives on in all of us, every time we listen deeply, hug a friend, hold our spouse’s hand and look about ourselves with curiosity.

Here are some sites, videos, or writings of Kevin Brooks:

Dedication to him – https://makezine.com/2014/06/28/the-eternal-story-of-kevin-brooks-making-an-impact/

Another Dedication – https://kimpearson.net/kevin-michael-brooks-technology-storyteller/

His blog – http://wordsaboutwater.blogspot.com

His site saved by MIT – http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~brooks/ and from MIT Technology about him – https://www.technologyreview.com/2011/08/23/192163/the-storyteller/

Playlist on YouTube – 10 videos featuring Kevin Brooks – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcnH1tNxXZ4–LHox9ishDi_ZcHxNl2Lx

“Tomato Paste” told by Kevin Brooks – https://youtu.be/FoizIQaRiBA

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 Kevin Brooks for his generosity and his ability to find the most meaningful insights from everyday life. Thank you, Kevin.

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

Cap’s Off to You!-Cathryn Fairlee (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Cathryn Fairlee

Epic-Teller, Mentor, Traveler

Cathryn Fairlee was the expert researcher and performer of epic tales complete with singing. I had the privilege of taking a workshop – in-person and front row – and I was floored by what she knew and was willing to share with us. She traveled to the places she told about and always said, “traveling teaches you history and culture.” From Northern Ireland to China to Mexico and many more, she discovered the world through stories.

I wish I had more personal things to say about Cathryn. I was an avid fan from a distance. I treasure that one workshop. I always dreamed of attending the “Going Deep: Long Traditional Stories Retreat.” Stories told had to be at least an hour long and preferred to be longer than that so that people would have beyond a typical storytelling festival experience. Later, there would be a discussion of symbols and motifs and any number of topics focused on that epic tale. Cathryn Fairlee, while not the founder of that event, was still an important part of it. She will always be important for not only what she told but who she welcomed into this world of epic-telling…and being an epic human being.

When she suffered from vascular cerebral dementia for years, she reached out to other storytellers and gave responsibility for those people to honor and continue to tell the epic. The dementia prevented her from recalling or performing, yet she had the foresight to share and mentor younger yet talented artists. In exchange, she learned skills from the younger generation including the talent to use watercolor and oils.

Ever since 2005, Cathryn was responsible for creating Epic Day that was held biannually. In September 2019, about two weeks before she passed on, that particular Epic Day had a song dedicated to her and an album with photos and memories. The July of the same year, she received the International Story Bridge Award through the National Storytelling Network.

I read some of the comments and memories from people, and someone said that for Halloween 2017, she gathered all the neighborhood kids and told ghost stories. Certainly, a special moment for all.

Some articles, odes, sounds or writings of Cathryn Fairlee:

Ode from the Storytellers of Canada – Conteurs du Canada – https://www.storytellers-conteurs.ca/en/news/Passing-Cathryn-Fairlee.html

Why These Tellers Have Storied Careers – newspaper article on Cathryn Fairlee, published June 2003

Storyteller Cathryn Fairlee fuses culture, dynamic characters and folk to create a change – online article on Cathryn Fairlee, published February 2018

You can learn a lot about a culture through its stories: Cathryn Fairlee – published January 31, 2018

Feral Mom, Feral Writer: Story of a Storyteller (Cathryn Fairlee) and A Musician (Stephen Pryputniewicz) – blog post, published on January 1, 2010

You can listen to Cathryn Fairlee on Spotify, you can listen to a bit without having an account or signing in though you can create a free Spotify account and listen to them all.

Here’s a hint of a story – different than than Celtic ones above – and this time on ReverbNation: https://www.reverbnation.com/cathrynfairlee/songs

Cathryn Fairlee was part of this Story Story Podcast with True Thomas: https://storystorypodcast.com/unusual-pets-cathryne-fairlee-true-thomas/

Some of her academic writings (may need to sign up for sites for free, but still available): https://sonoma.academia.edu/CathrynFairlee

A post by her on Chinese Teahouse Telling on the National Storytelling Network blog: https://storynet.org/chinese-teahouse-telling/

Cathryn Fairlee tells “The Search for Three Magic Words” as part of the Seattle Storytellers Guild’s Kalavala Epic Event on March 25th, 2017 Audio Recording (shared by Barry McWilliams) http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/kalevala%2006.htm

Event Page: http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/Kalevala.htm

Cathryn Fairlee and  Mary Louise Chown tell “Princess Badoura and Prince Komarelzima” at the Seattle Storyteller’s Guild 1,001 Nights Epic Event, May 5th, 2018. Audio  Recording (shared by Barry McWilliams):  http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/1001NightsAudio/Cathryn%20Fairlee%20Princess%20Badoura%20and%20Prince%20Kamarelziman%20%2031.mp3

Event Page: http://www.eldrbarry.net/epic/1001NightsEpic.htm

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 Cathryn Fairlee with her guidance to many storytellers, especially in telling epic tales through never limiting herself to one way to give. She made sure that the stories she told were passed on to others before passing on. Thank you, Cathryn.

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