What’s unusual about ‘99 BUHS grad Jenny Pachucki’s story is that the appendix appears at the beginning. Literally.
Pachucki (pronounced Pah-choo-key) had moved to New York City in January, 2004 with a college roommate. She had graduated from UC Berkeley in June, and had been working in Oakland post-graduation when she came home for the Christmas holiday and announced a bold plan to move to the Big Apple.
Her parents were skeptical. Mom Ellie, a former longtime 3rd grade teacher at Bishop Elementary) and Dad, Walt, a now-retired engineer, privately bet she’d last a month.
Weeks later, she boarded a plane with two suitcases. She had $3,000 in a bank account. She remembers spending the last of her cash on a Heineken on the flight.
She and her roommate Rachel moved into a 6th-floor walk-up near Columbia University on the Upper West Side. Jenny soon landed a job as an Analyst’s Assistant at Credit Suisse.
About a year later, in the winter of 2005, she had an appendectomy (ah, the appendix!). In the hospital, she couldn’t help but observe that her roommate, a woman in her late 80s, was entertaining a steady stream of admirers.
Turns out the woman, Mary Anthony, was a legend of modern dance. The year before, she had been given the Bessie Award for lifetime contribution to her field.
As Jenny said with great understatement, “It turns out she was a really big deal.” The two bonded.
And the “big deal” ended up introducing Jenny to all her friends in the modern dance world.
And the reason this matters? Let’s fill in a little more of the story.
Jenny Pachucki didn’t move to New York City to work in finance. She didn’t even really move to New York City for New York City. “I didn’t know what else to do with myself at the time, so it seemed like a fine temporary plan,” she admits. “I hadn’t thought at all about it.”
What she had thought about, at least in the longer term, was chasing an admittedly impractical and hardly lucrative interest in history. And now that she was in New York City, she applied and was accepted to New York University’s Masters Program in Archives and Public History.
One of her first projects was an extensive oral history of Mary Anthony and modern dance – despite the fact that Jenny knew precious little about dance.
But by the time she was finished with her Mary Anthony project, she had senior librarians at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts saying, “How the heck did you get all of these people to talk to you?”
She was on her way.
Post-graduate school, she landed a position at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, starting as an intern, and then getting hired on as an Oral Historian and Assistant Curator.
She managed the collection of more than 800 oral history interviews, conducting about half of them herself. She was part of a small team that planned the exhibitions and opened the Museum in 2014.
As part of her job, she hosted an podcast titled, “Our City, Our Story.” interviewing celebs including Robert DeNiro, Katie Couric and others.
She was with the 9/11 Museum a decade. Her final job title: Content Strategist
What Jenny had to learn very quickly in her job at the 9/11 Museum was how to best approach interviewing people who were very reticent to be interviewed.
A daunting task when you’re a 20-something interviewing firefighters broken and haunted by what happened on 9/11 and what they saw.
“An interview is a partnership,” says Jenny. “But the person being interviewed doesn’t know that they’re your partner. Your job is to get them to sign onto that partnership in the process of speaking to them.”
With the firefighters, in general a proud bunch who tend to avoid therapists as well as talking about their feelings, Jenny would often start by asking them about the trucks, the equipment, their jobs. Out of a three-hour block of time allotted to the interview, she might spend the first hour just getting her subjects comfortable.
Only after making the firefighters comfortable would she switch gears and start asking about 9/11 itself.
And very often, she’d watch as these brave men broke down. And then would apologize for the breakdowns.
Part of the reason she thinks they’d open up to her: They came in thinking they’d be talking to a fancy museum lady, but in the end, they were really just talking to a Bishop girl.
Firefighters were just some of those she interviewed. “I heard stories of people who should’ve absolutely been dead, but survived by chance,” said Jenny of her 9/11 oral history work.
What saved many New Yorkers that day? The NFL. The New York Giants played the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. It was a thrilling game which lasted until the wee hours.
“So many people who should’ve been at the office stumbled in late [because of the Monday night football] and missed it,” said Pachucki.
Then there was the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm, who took his child to the first day of kindergarten that morning. That’s why he lived, whereas 700 of his employees did not.
9/11 is still (and probably always will be) a part of Jenny’s career, even after leaving the Museum. Most recently, she conducted research and served as historical advisor for journalist Garrett Graff’s recently published book, “The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11” and is a consulting producer for two History channel documentaries to air in the fall.
Jenny currently works for Local Projects, an exhibition and media design firm for museums and public spaces. Her latest project: The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library being built in North Dakota.
*I imagine your initial reaction was much the same as mine: Why is native New Yorker Teddy Roosevelt’s library going to be located in North Dakota?
As Jenny explains, Roosevelt’s beloved first wife, as well as his mother, died on the same day, February 14, 1884.
A devastated Roosevelt responded by purchasing a ranch in Medora, North Dakota. He literally planned to become a rancher and disappear into the nation’s heartland. And while he obviously didn’t disappear forever, one could say North Dakota rejuvenated him.
“If my 20-year old self about were told I would be a part of this project, I would have peed my pants,” says Jenny.
And probably would have done the same thing if you’d told her that she could obtain a Master’s degree in an obscure specialty and make it work in the biggest, baddest city in the world.
From Jenny: “I wanted to mention some important and formative reasons that I think my path has wound the way it has. There were a few dedicated teachers and mentors that highly influenced me and fought hard, giving a lot of themselves, their time and personal resources to create opportunities and exposure that is really important to give kids from small towns.
Irene Sorensen, an 8th grade history teacher who ran the History Day competition program. She, and her husband Don (recently passed), were a huge reason that I developed an interest in history and public history (before I knew what that was).
Bea Beyer, a (former) high school English teacher who ran the Mock Trial program with Dean Stout, was one of my most important mentors. She drove from Crowley to be at BUHS every day by 6:30 a.m. for a zero period class to prep for competitions. Dean had a very demanding job but gave and gave and gave. He is a critical person to my life. They both challenged us and it worked.
Both the Mock Trial and History Day programs consistently turned out teams and projects that were competitive with the Southern California schools that had all the resources, shine and influence in the world. We would be these small, but incredibly unlikely powerhouse teams, consistently scoring high, winning awards, going on to Nationals etc. That doesn’t happen in a lot of other rural communities, and it doesn’t happen by accident.
I needed those experiences to be able to even start to swim in bigger pools.
Also, I took French in high school with Carol Scott who exposed us to art house french films, taught us about cafe culture, and took groups to Europe every summer.
Lelani Thornburg, the high school drama teacher who gave up her nights for months out of the year to direct plays and teach us about theater.
Dan Dougherty (a saint of a man) who would take groups of terribly behaved band kids to Reno for the annual jazz festival.
These teachers took years off their lives – I am convinced of that – to expose us to culture and travel and experiences that are common in bigger cities, but not so much in the Owens Valley. Those experiences became a part of the fabric of who I am and helped mold my idea of a life I wanted to lead. Maybe I didn’t leave Bishop with the life I live now in the front of mind, but it was people like them who planted that possibility. I appreciate it deeply.
I don’t think a lot of those programs are still supported, and it makes it that much unlikely that young people from the community will want to or feel comfortable making a big leap.”
Following one’s own path
It’s one thing to have a great foundational community. But no matter the foundation, one has to have the fortitude and/or the self-awareness to know what’s right for themselves.
Jenny took a circuitous path to get to UC-Berkeley.
After finishing at Bishop Union High School, Pachucki enrolled at a small, private college, Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon.
And hated it.
“It was such a letdown after Bishop. Such an ugly place. Private, expensive … it was the opposite of what I wanted.”
The summer after her freshman year, she transferred to Santa Barbara City College. That’s where her best friend Christy Milovich was enrolled. “And it was amazing,” said Jenny. “Some of the best courses I took in college, I took at Santa Barbara.”
Both she and Milovich then transferred to Berkeley for their final two years.
Sheet: You ever think about getting a PhD?
Pachucki: From my observation, no one who gets their PhD is happy. Academics are miserable people.”
Finally, we asked Jenny what it’s been like to live in New York since the pandemic hit, and whether or not she considers leaving the city.
“I plot my escape all the time,” she says, but problem is, New York is where her connections are, and where the opportunities seem to present themselves. “New York opened its arms to me, and now it has me by the ankles.”
She lives in Brooklyn these days and her office is in lower Manhattan, though she says she’s only been to Manhattan about twice since March, and has maybe taken the subway 6-8 times total.
But these are the best times to be in New York City, she maintains. When the chips are down. “There’s an energy and a spirit and a camaraderie.”
She did come home to live with her father in Bishop for six weeks last summer.