Activist storyteller Tori Hagerty

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A trip to Ghana in the summer of 2011 was a wakeup call for Tori Hagerty, serving as a catalyst for a project that now encompasses hundreds of interviews, two books and a nonprofit foundation that aids the orphanage where she volunteered for a month-and-a-half.

“It changed my entire worldview and made me appreciate all the luxury that we have here in America,” Hagerty says of her trip. It also inspired her to combine a longstanding passion for storytelling with her desire to make the world a better place.

While volunteering in Ghana in 2011, Hagerty met Amara, a young girl afflicted with AIDS who passed away while Hagerty was still volunteering in the country. When she asked why Amara had died, Hagerty was told, “Because the medicines ran out.” Medication that could have kept Amara alive was unavailable because donations to the orphanage had been exhausted.

Returning to the states armed with this knowledge, Hagerty launched and the Interview Girl Foundation, with proceeds going to help the orphanage where Amara lived.

She also published “Because the Medicines Ran Out: The Story Behind the Creation of and the Interview Girl Foundation,” with a portion of those proceeds also contributing to the cause.

Four years before her fateful journey, Hagerty had begun gathering stories from the World War II generation. From 2007 to 2017, Hagerty slowly but surely collected more than 500 interviews from Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine veterans; Holocaust survivors; POWS; and residents of Italy and Poland who lived through the war. “It literally took over my 20s,” Hagerty says.

She sought interviews from nursing homes, retirement communities, and VFW halls. Those interviews will fill her newest book, “Chasing Time,” with proceeds once again benefiting the orphanage where Hagerty volunteered.

Along with creating a legacy for a quickly vanishing generation, the book is aimed at imparting lessons to millennials bestowed by a generation that faced a world at war. “The World War II generation has taught me so much,” Hagerty says. “But the overarching lesson they taught me is to love life because it is a gift and to make the most of the time that we have while we are here.” The book will be available for purchase this summer.

Hagerty’s passion for collecting stories dates back to her college days, during which she earned three master’s degrees: in language and literacy, European history, and Italian.

She began by telling the stories of Italian refugees from present-day Croatia and Slovenia. Her first interviewee was her mother, Dorina Giannese Spiering.

“Her family is from Fiume, which today is Rijeka in Croatia,” she explains. “When Fiume became communist Yugoslavia after World War II, my mom’s family fled. They lived in a refugee camp in Novara, Italy, where my mother was born, and they came to the United States after they were approved six years later in 1956.”

Following work on her thesis, Hagerty sets her sights on the entire World War II generation. “I decided I have to make this bigger, so that long after they’re gone, their stories and their legacy can live on.”

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