The astronaut visited the town in 1963 shortly after orbiting the earth
John Glenn made quite an impression on the world and quite an impression on Havelock.
The former Marine Corps pilot most noted for being the first American to orbit the earth in space on Feb. 20, 1962, died at age 95 on Dec. 8.
The former U.S. senator, who once served at Cherry Point and was in the original group of seven Mercury astronauts, ended up returning to space on the space shuttle as the oldest person ever to travel into space.
Glenn was about as famous as any American when he came back to Havelock and took a tour of schools on Dec. 17, 1963.
George Griffin, 89, was the mayor of Havelock at the time and was among those with Glenn on that day.
“I just remember that I tagged along because I was the mayor of Havelock and I had an invite from the base to participate,” Griffin said. “I do know that my oldest daughter Georgia asked if she could ride in the group that was touring with him and I told her no. She mentioned that to Glenn as he went by her in the group at school and he said ‘You’re Daddy’s a meanie.’ That’s really the only significant thing I remember about it.”
He said Glenn got quite a reception.
“It was a big day for Havelock,” Griffin said. “He was the first man to circle the globe, you know and here he was in Havelock and he was a Marine and he was an aviator, so a lot of the people probably knew him first hand.”
Glenn went to the Havelock High School, which is the present day Havelock Middle School. He went to the Havelock Elementary School, which has been torn down. The group visited Annunciation Catholic School, Graham Barden Elementary and West Havelock School, which is now Arthur Edwards Elementary.
Jimmy Sanders was a sophomore at Havelock High School at the time.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Sanders, who would eventually serve as the city’s mayor. “John Glenn, even today he is generally recognized as an American hero, but in 1962, he was it, He was the man.
“Everything we did was a life or death type of competition with the Soviets. The Soviets had already put a man in orbit and now here we had John Glenn, and not only had we put somebody in orbit to match what the Russians had done, but it was a Marine so it was a pretty amazing time. Everybody turned out.”
The visit made the inside cover of one of the high school annuals,” Sanders said.
“Hoyt Hayes is in the picture, who was the football coach at the time, and Stewart Daniels, who was the principal at the time, and the entire student body, probably 500 of us, but we were all out there,” Sanders said. “Interestingly enough, a lot of them had on coats and ties that day. I may have had one on myself that day. It was interesting to see how the kids were dressed, as opposed to way they probably would dress today. It was a big deal. It was definitely a big deal.”
Sanders said that Glenn mingled with students and teachers at the school.
“It was a unique time,” Sanders said. “I have never seen anything approaching his stature that has come to Havelock that was so readily available to so many. We were just kids and yet he came to see us. It was absolutely a big day. It was a big deal then. It’s a big deal today.”
Then student Carol Franks said she still has the yearbook that featured Glenn.
“All the school was outside and they were out there walking. I know it must have been cold. We had coats on,” she said. “When you’re 14, anybody that’s a national figure, it is always amazing to see, especially in a small town.”
Ronnie Olkowski, now of Carolina Pines, was 15 or 16 at the time of Glenn’s visit.
“It was really, really impressive,” Olkowski said. “Everybody was real excited about it. It was really a big event in Havelock. He was a former Marine and we are a Marine Corps base and just the fact that he was so famous for having been in orbit around the earth. I even shook his hand. Yep, it was pretty neat. He was just going around greeting everybody and I was just one of the lucky ones that he walked by I guess.”
Jodie Randall teaches third grade at Graham A. Barden Elementary, and believes the school should be proud of Glenn’s visit.
“Our school is steeped in military history,” Randall said. “Not only is it located right here next to the base, connected to base housing, we serve the majority of military families and students, and I just think it is really cool that he chose Graham Barden to come and visit and that same school is still standing today and we have all that cool history. I think it was neat for the children to be a part of something that was so awesome. It should be a point of pride.”