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StoryCorps In Kansas City: A Father's Path To Coming Out After Losing His Wife And Best Friend

Landon Vonderschmidt
Bernard Shondell with his three kids Joey, Nick and Allie in 2013.

Editor's note: StoryCorps OutLoud visited KCUR in the summer of 2015 to collect stories from Kansas City's LGBTQ community in partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America. This story originally aired in August 2015. Since then, Bernard Shondell and Brigid Burgett both say they remain good friends. StoryCorps is once again in Kansas City, and KCUR will begin airing new stories recorded here starting Monday, August 20, 2018.

Bernard Shondell and Ann Marie Pikus were best friends in high school. After college they were inseparable and decided to get married. They were married for 10 years and had three kids, then 14 years ago Ann Marie died of cancer. It was after her death, during a car ride with his three-year-old niece that Shondell had a profound realization about his sexuality.

“It was Christmas after Ann had passed away,” recalls Shondell. “And as we were driving around Colleen just blurts out, ‘When are you going to get a new mommy for Joey?’ That really kept me up.”

Shondell says he didn’t sleep at all that night. Up until that point he had never thought he would come out, but after a sleepless night of reflection he realized that there wasn’t going to be another mom.

“That January I started kind of the process of coming out,” he says.

Shondell was raised Catholic, in a religious environment that he says taught him his sexuality was a choice. He says he was just trying to be a good son, husband and father. His whole life he had been repressing his attraction towards men.

Shondell recalls that during his marriage with Ann Marie, “There were distractions at times, but I never was physically unfaithful."

Credit C/O Bernard Shondell
Brigid Burgett, Bernard Shondell's close friend and mother-in-law.

'She would want me to stand by you'

Fourteen years after Ann Marie's passing, Brigid Burgett, Ann Marie’s mother is still close friends with Shondell — they've been close since his youth.

When Shondell came out as gay, Burgett says that she had already been thinking that maybe he was. “I had wondered, because I had always thought you were frustrated,” she says.

In a StoryCorps recording booth earlier this summer Burgett and Shondell met up to talk about Ann Marie, their family and Shondell coming out as gay.

“You’ve been such a loving support for me and for the kids,” Shondell told Burgett. “You never gave up on me, and I love you for that, and I love you for being you.”

“I love you too,” Burgett responded. “Especially because I know how much Ann Marie loved you. I’ll always remember that. So I kind of cherish that. And I know she would want me to stand by you, without a doubt. Because I think if she was living, and you finally decided ‘Ann I can’t do this anymore, I’m gay,’ I think you would have remained friends.”

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a podcast producer for KCUR Studios and host of the podcast A People’s History of Kansas City, I aim to provide context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. In that role, and as an occasional announcer and reporter, I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.
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