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!-Brother Blue (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Brother Blue (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Mentor, & “Holy Fool”

Brother Blue made an impression as soon as you are in the same room. He could be 10 feet away or 100 feet away and still his aura will take hold. Yes, the first time I saw Brother Blue, it was at the National Storytelling Conference held in Bellingham, Washington in 2004. This was my first time attending any National Storytelling Conference. Seeing Brother Blue solidified my need to promote the art of storytelling in any way that I could. He was willing to share his true self with everyone. Could I find my own way to further the work? Brother Blue always sought for people to find their voice and then shout it out to the heavens.

I can’t even dedicate decent enough words or thoughts about him. I had that fleeting moment that, to this day, feels surreal. All I know is that when he came to the floor of the auditorium that bustled with bards and raconteurs – all focus was on him when he took the stage. People – like me – hung on his every word. He was a peace-maker and what often felt eccentric bits of wisdom that formed as he opened his mouth. One of the most intelligent person I could hope to know all in disguise – of sorts – in his “wanderer” attire of different shades of blue – from the blue hat to the blue shirt and pants and covered in butterflies. Always butterflies, a symbol of personal transformation. Everything he did, said, and wore was with great purpose – often with spiritual undertones.

He saw himself as the “Holy Fool,” and a moment with him was enough to verify this identity. Five years later from when I first saw him in 2004, it was sounded out through the storytelling universe that Brother Blue had passed on.

Yet, he never really passed on. I see his influence everywhere.

When meeting with Laura Packer through Zoom, I noticed the blue butterfly on her left palm. I flashed back to 2004 again. Now, Laura Packer would be a person who could share so much more than me on Brother Blue’s ever-inspiring nature. She purposely has that blue butterfly as a constant reminder about him.

I did find these articles, books, and videos about or featuring him – from people who either knew him better or delved deeper into how Brother Blue became Brother Blue:

Hugh Morgan Hill, the Storyteller Brother Blue, Dies at 88 – The New York Times – published November 26, 2009

RIP, our Brother, Blue aka Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill – massmouth – published November 4, 2009

Brother Blue Is Immortal – Daily Kos, written by WarrenS – published November 5, 2009

Brother Blue – Alchetron – updated May 24, 2018

Brother Blue: A Narrative Portrait of Brother Blue A.K.A. Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill – book dedicated, published October 1, 1995

Ahhhh! A Tribute to Brother Blue & Ruth Edmonds Hill – book dedicated, published September 1, 2003

Brother Blue – Listen with Your Entire Being – only 42 seconds long though wisdom to hear – shared on YouTube on November 18, 2009

Some Footage of Brother Blue – National Association of Black Storytellers Festival 2007/2008

Brother Blue Confesses – a homage shared by Thomas Southern with him talking as if he was Brother Blue – really remarkable in how he was able to capture Brother Blue’s essence – shared on YouTube on August 29, 2016

Miss No Name: Struggles for Justice – a homage shared by Jay O’Callahan with permission from Brother Blue’s wife, Ruth Hill – shared on YouTube on August 23, 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 Brother Blue for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in all cosmic ways. He listened to others and thus why we are drawn to listen to him. Thank you, Brother Blue.

Brother Blue still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Brad Maurer (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Brad Maurer (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Librarian, D&D Master

Brad Maurer was more a storyteller than a librarian. For 35 years, yes, he was a librarian. Though all 69 of his years, he was a storyteller. I do have a strong belief in the Pre-Existence…so he had many more years before coming to Earth and now plenty more in the heavens. When Halloween came around, I looked forward to the Spooktacular events throughout the Davis County Library System. Halloween was only Halloween when performing side-by-side with Brad Maurer. Some of these memories are the result of Janine Nishiguchi and I reminiscing together.

Brad’s partner-in-crime for storytelling was Marilyn Getts. They both became branch librarians who had the talents to spin spooky tales as entangled as spider webs. They had quite the repertoire together that I was honored to participate in such as “Hoppa, Hoppa” with a pumpkin that “hopped” or “hoppa, hoppa” from one person to another until facing off with brave and hungry pig or “Old Devil Wind” where various inanimate objects come to life from the door to the broom to the floor and on and on and all because of that “old devil wind.”

Brad had a cat theme in his scary stories from “The King o’ Cats” on people discussing on who is Tom Tildrum in front of what appears to be a normal cat to “Wait Till Martin Comes” where the cats get bigger and bigger and the man has to decide if he really wants to “wait till Martin comes.” Both feel like Brad’s signature pieces and both that I looked forward to him performing. I have heard these classic stories before I met Brad about 10 years ago. Yet, he brought the most life to these stories. I could even believe that Brad could be part-cat in the way he had the perfect yowls and sounds.

What helped in the whole telling was purely Brad’s presence. He was a giant of a man in more than one way. Giant in size of both height and heart. Before he needed a wheelchair when battling Parkinson’s Disease, he was well over 6 feet tall…maybe even 6 1/2 feet tall. He towered over his audience. His voice was loud enough but yet quiet enough to get a sense that all the stories he was telling could be true–as if we were sharing this secret with him.

Despite his size, everyone knew he was really a big o’ teddy bear.

Though, to throw people off, he loved wearing a dark hoody on those Spooktacular nights and put on a monster mask. Now, masks can throw off and possibly scare little kids. Brad knew the importance of a little scare. We, as humans, face scary things every day.

Eleanor Roosevelt said:

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Often, people misquote Eleanor Roosevelt for saying “do one thing every day that scares you.”

I like the actual and longer version. I have a feeling Brad would appreciate it, too.

How else can it be explained that he and Marilyn Getts delighted in the telling of “Aaron Kelly’s Bones”? A woman is faced with a good-fer-nothin’ husband that won’t stay dead…or at least won’t stay in his grave. He hangs around, bones and all, rocking back and forth in the rocking chair. Somehow, this woman has another man to call on her. This man is a phenomenal fiddle player and the two of them find out that Aaron Kelly loves to dance and loosens some bones as a result.

To end those Spooktacular nights, Brad and Marilyn often did this poem with the audience repeating the “Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo” after each line. This is not the exact wording but closest to how I remember them sharing it. Janine Nishiguchi says she has the exact words that Brad and Marilyn used…so I will edit this when that is possible.

A woman stood by the churchyard wall
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The woman she was gaunt and tall
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
A corpse was being carried in
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The corpse was very pale and thin
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The worms crawled in and the worms crawled out
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
In at the nose and out of the snout
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
The woman to the corpse said:
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo
“Shall I be like that when I am dead?”
Ooo__________ Ahh__________Ooo

Cue Marilyn’s blood-curdling scream. Yes, we sometimes had to warn library patrons to ignore screams on Spooktacular nights.

I always sensed the greatest delights for Brad in the poem to be “the worms crawled in and the worms crawled out.” Obviously, Marilyn’s favorite part was the scream.

Perhaps Brad had another appreciation for fear and death. For over 14 years, Brad battled not only Parkinson’s Disease but also Cancer. He beat out the Cancer, but the Parkinson’s made it’s mark. Still, I never sensed that he was afraid at what was happening. Every time I saw him, like one time at the Smith’s Grocery Store, he was as delightful as ever with plenty of smiles.

Even after Brad’s retirement as the Centerville Branch Manager–in which he was famous for welcoming EVERYBODY with some kind of welcoming statement–he still volunteered with some evening storytimes at the South Branch Library in Bountiful, Utah. When it was the 50th Birthday Party for the South Branch Library in January 2020, it was an honor and true pleasure to see Brad and his wife attend. As a result, Janine Nishiguchi performed “Caps for Sale: a tale of a peddler, some monkeys, and their monkey business” by Esphyr Slobodkina. Brad had more than scary stories in his repertoire and this was another one of his favorite to share.

It wasn’t until reading a little about Brad’s life that I understood how big he was into Dungeons & Dragons…and made perfect sense upon discovery. The imagination soars in that game, which is partly why I enjoy it myself and have my own dice. Though, my love of the game does not even compare to Brad’s involvement and dedication. I saw online that some people made memory bracelets that featured a dragon in Brad’s name. Some day, I will see Brad again and tell him about my own D&D character, a forest gnome named Nissa Folknor (nicknamed Nim) who was a bard and played many different instruments to soothe as well as to stir the soul.

His family knows so much more than me–as they ought. Truly, a fantastic and gentle man…with enough to shake up some scares for the sake of fun.

Thank you for your influence and kindness, Brad!

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 Brad for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of listening and believing you are the most wonderful person in the world. Of course, you would hear his stories and think he is the most wonderful person in the world. Thank you, Brad.

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