This is a story of two best friends, affectionately known as ‘Mo and Jo.’ They volunteer everywhere, Good Cheer, Calvary Church, Senior Center, Brookhaven, Community Thrift and for numerous South Whidbey neighbors.
Together they are a volunteer team putting in 60-plus hours every week each.
Many refer to them as ‘Mo and Jo.’ They have other names, Mutt and Jeff, Genuine Duo, or ‘the boys.’
Their given names are Jim Engstrom and Larry Corradini, and they do everything together.
For Good Cheer alone Engstrom has put in nearly 9,000 hours and Corradini nearly 6,000.
Marjorie Rosenthal laughs and smiles as she speaks about these two.
“They have waited on us at Brookhaven for meals, and we all just love them. They offer kindness, help and friendship to everyone; they are not concerned about what people might think of them, they only care about how they treat others. If you see them across the street, they won’t let you get by without acknowledging you and making you feel important and loved.
“‘HEY MARJOIRE,’ they yell across the street, ‘How are you today?’ And they wait to hear, they really want to know, and they want to know if you need anything at all from them. They treat every single person with the same care.”
“There was a guy that used to live in our complex. He could not speak and only could get around in a wheelchair. As soon as Larry and Jim met him, they invited him to come fishing with them, bought him a fishing pole at the thrift store, took him all kinds of places.”
Rosenthal said they changed this man’s life, opening up his world.
Meeting with the two at the community room of one of their volunteer places, right away you know you can joke and tease with them, they don’t take themselves seriously, they act without guile. Their laughter is so loud; several people at the center came in to be part of the fun.
Engstrom’s laugh is hearty, so much so the window’s almost vibrate. He slaps his hand on the table, and his head leans back as he laughs so hard he said, “My stomach hurts.” Corradini laughs along with him, and the next several hours are filled with laughter where all have a side splitting stomach aches.
The two are both great sports too, and will do anything to make someone smile.
Well, almost anything.
“CORRADINI SAID, “We all want Jim to put on a Santa Claus suit.” Engstrom interrupts, “No Santa suit.”
Corradini continues, “Jim’s laugh is great and the kids would love it at Christmas time.”
Engstrom quickly says while laughing but still seriously, “No Santa Suit, nope nope.”
Their daily routine begins 7 a.m. Corradini wakes up in his 18-foot trailer and begins the outside chores.
“Then I go to Jim’s house where he is fixing breakfast for his parents,” Corradini said. “After we eat we clean up and do the dishes and set his parents up for the day cause they both have health problems.”
“Yeah health problems,” Engstrom echoes.
“We jump in my truck to start our day,” Corradini continued.
“Yeah, truck,” Engstrom said.
You might see the pair driving around in Larry’s old 1978 rusty old Ford canopy truck — it’s loud, it smokes, it smells but makes its way to each of their volunteer places.
Engstrom has lived his entire life with his parents; he is developmental delayed and has never obtained a driver’s license or other “rites of passage” adult privileges. He cannot form complete sentences on his own but he surely can cheerlead others ideas with enthusiasm, usually with a “yeah,” or repeating several of the last words someone said.
His big heart however is exceptional beyond most.
CORRADINI’S FATHER died when he was 6. Corradini wanted to help his family and at age 13, he found a job at an estate maintaining the yard and polishing silver after school — he worked there for 26 years. Then was employed in janitorial work until 2008 when his arthritis became so bad he could no longer keep a job and was put on Social Security.
“I can live on the $800 a month, I know how to budget, mom taught me that.
“My mom died when I was 36, it was on Feb. 23, 1990 that was really rough on me, I really loved my mom,” he said with watery eyes.
He married and had children.
“We are separated, but hopefully we can work things out,” he said.
Changing the subject, he starts laughing.
“Hey Jim isn’t that pancake breakfast coming up again?”
“Yeah, pancake,” Engstrom recaps.
They both start laughing, Engstrom slaps his hand on the table again saying, “pancakes” he laughs so hard he snorts.
Corradini laughingly says to Engstrom, “remember last time Jim the dishwasher got broken and we had to wash all the sticky plates and silverware six times each.”
Engstrom laughs along and said, “Yeah, six times.”
THE PAIR said they do find that life is hard for some people and they’ve seen a lot.
“There are a lot of people that have a hard time they are lonely, no real friends, have health problems, maybe no place to live,” Corradini said. “Our church in Clinton, Calvary church goes downtown to Seattle at night to help the homeless and give warm things out. I remember a pregnant woman and her child sleeping on the cold concrete. We just laid a warm sleeping bag and blanket and pillow around her. Man that was hard to see.”
Engstrom echoes, “Yeah hard see.”
“People sleeping in doorways, some just in their street clothes. We hoped by covering them with warm blankets they would wake up warm,” Corradini said. “A lot of people sleeping on cardboard or in their wheelchairs. We see giant rats by dumpsters. He shows the length of the rats by spreading out his hands, big rats.”
“Yeah big rats,” Engstrom said.
“Some want us to pray for them, some don’t, Corradini said. “I pray silently for all of them.”
“Any of us through certain events could end up homeless.”
Their pastor of Calvary church, Brett Williams, writes, “Jim and Larry’s lives revolve around helping others! They are wonderful examples of friendship, selflessness and love for their community. As the pastor of the church family that Jim and Larry are a part of, I like to try and get there early on Sunday mornings. I very rarely am able to beat Jim and Larry. Their truck is always sitting in the parking lot awaiting our arrival so they can help make coffee, put out the church signs or anything else that needs doing. They are always cheerful, enthusiastic and ready to serve. They are a joy to have around.”
Corradini says he remembers when he became Christian.
“I was 9 years old when Jim Leierer of Langley gave me my Bible and led me to become a Christian,” he said.
Both say their Christian values inspire them to help their neighbor, and everyone is your neighbor.
“Yeah everyone neighbor,” Engstrom said.
“WE ARE lucky to have our friendship,” Corradini said. “We get into disagreements sometimes, but it quickly blows over.”
“We help each other, like Jim has wanted to send Christmas cards out, so he tells me who he wants to send them to and I write down the addresses and a message and he signs them. Jim lives on about $600 a month and if one of us needs something the other helps. We are supposed to care for those in need and that includes our friends and families too. We both just want to help people, and be of use,” he said. “So we offer ourselves to help out where we can. We don’t have money to give, but we do have our time.”
“Yeah time,” Engstrom echoes.
About Mo and Jo
Jim H. Engstrom
Birth date: April 21,1956
Birth place: Everett
Education: High school, Marysville
Siblings: One brother, Kevin
Years on Whidbey: 19
Hobbies: Volunteering to help, fishing, working with wood
Larry J. Corradini
Birth date: Aug. 1, 1953
Parents: Clare and Harold Engstrom
Siblings: One stepsister; two brothers, one of them deceased.
Children: Two children, three stepchildren
Years on Whidbey: All my life
Hobbies: Fishing, woodworking
South Whidbey people you most admire?
Pastor Brett Willaims, “our role model,” Pastor Baldwin and Pastor Shore.
Personal Sides from both MO and JO
Favorite song: “Folsom Prison Blues,” by Johnny Cash.
What does it mean to have class? “It means nothin’, cause we treat all the same anyway.”
What is your favorite book? “The Bible.”
What do you do if you feel down or depressed? “We pray.”
What are your weaknesses? “We are addicted to coffee, we drink it all day long.”
What makes you feel good about yourselves? “To be of use.”