This article was included in the 1962 edition of The Baylor Line.
A Baylor speech professor recalls his college days with the first American to orbit the earth. By D. Thomas B. Abbott.
NOT ONE OF THE HUNDREDS on the campus who stayed glued to TV sets and radios on February 20, 1962, was sweating it harder than Dr. Thomas B. Abbott, director of the Baylor Speech Clinic. Nor was anyone more relieved nor any happier than he about Lt. Col. John H. Glenn’s three successful orbits around the earth. “That last fifteen minutes when I couldn’t tell what was going on nearly got me,” Dr. Abbott says now.
The Baylor speech professor and his wife are former Muskingum. College classmates of the famed astronaut and his wife, Annie, and have kept in touch with them through the years since they double-dated at the small Presbyterian college.
The Abbotts, exhausted and happy as were all Americans who tracked the space capsule during those fateful four hours and fifty-six minutes, sent the Glenns greetings. “I imagine ours are lost at the bottom of a huge pile,” he says.
Dr. Abbott went from his home in Pennsylvania to enroll in Muskingum College in John Glenn’s home town of New Concord, Ohio. Both the college and the town are famous since February 20.
Pictures of John Glenn and his wife, who was then Anna Margaret Castor, appear in several places in Dr. Abbott’s 1942 Muskingum yearbook. In those days the colonel had thick, wavy hair. Annie appears less changed. She was a striking girl with black hair and brows and large dark eyes. She was the daughter of the town’s only dentist. Appearing beside her picture in the senior section were these comments : “Music. Delta, vice president; Sigma Alpha Iota 2,3,4, Treasurer 4 ; A Cappella 2,3,4 ; Choral 1,2,3,4 ; Band, 1,2, 3 ; Orchestra 3 ; Women’s Glee Club 1 ; Y.W.C.A. Cabinet 1,3,4 ; W.A.A. Cabinet 2,3,4, Treasurer 4 May Queen Attendant 4.” She graduated in 1942, the year her future husband left school in his junior year to enter the U. S. Navy.
“All the boys in the fraternity house gathered on the front steps to wave goodbye,” Dr. Abbott recalls. “It was John’s great ambition to get into the service. He was particularly interested in aviation. It was later some time that he was assigned to the Marines for flight training.”
John Glenn’s picture appears as a member of the football team and in another place as a member of O.X.E., a sophomore men’s honorary fraternity. The club is described thus: “Members are chosen from the freshman class by outgoing sophomores; must exhibit potentialities of leadership, qualities of straight thinking and seriousness of purpose.”
Dr. Abbott confesses that Lt. Col. Glenn was not the most memorable of his classmates at Muskingum. He played football but was not outstanding. His grades were adequate but not above average. He was religious, as were most Muskingum students, in a quiet, sincere way.
“John would come down on Sunday mornings to make sure everyone got up and went to church,” Dr. Abbott remembers. “He is a fine example of what we consider today the product of a good Christian home and Christian education. He was never afraid to mention his religion and still isn’t.”
Young Glenn lived with his parents but ate one or two meals a day at the fraternity house. It was a large social club called the Stags, to which Glenn and Abbott belonged. Boys of the Stag house were frequent visitors to the Glenn kitchen. The astronaut’s father had an automobile agency in New Concord and also a plumbing business.
“John was a handy friend to have,” Dr. Abbott says. “There were not many cars about the campus then. But because his father was a dealer, he always had access to a car. When we planned trips, we al-ways made sure John was invited!”
The Glenns and the Abbotts keep in touch through round robin letters exchanged by about twelve women who attended the college. “In small schools, the ties are closer,” Dr. Abbott says. Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Glenn were in the same sorority.
Dr. Abbott last saw Lt. Col. Glenn ten years ago. He planned, but was unable to have a reunion in Los Angeles in 1957. Glenn was preparing to leave on the cross-country flight that turned out to be a record-breaker for speed. This accomplishment was significant, but another big news event the same day crowded Glenn off the front pages. The Abbotts expect to see the Glenns when the astronauts move to Houston later this year.
Dr. Abbott remembers his friend for his kindness. Once Glenn and a friend learned that a nearby farmer was about to lose his crop because of illness. They got a group of boys together and made the harvest themselves.
Dr. Abbott, who has made, speech his life’s work, had two speech classes with Glenn. He likes to think that is where Glenn began developing the compelling speaking qualities that have won him wide acclaim, including praise from the U. S. Congress.
Dr. Abbott chuckled as he told of how he and his wife were at the dinner table the evening of Glenn’s orbit. His wife suddenly said, “Have we sent in our alumni dues to Muskingum College this year?” He wonders how many other alumni were thus reminded. And he wants to be sure he doesn’t miss the next issue of the alumni magazine.