Annie Castor Glenn, a respected advocate for people with communicative disorders and wife of former astronaut and statesman John Glenn, died today at the age of 100. Public figures on both sides of the aisle have offered words of sympathy to Annie’s children and shared fond memories of the beloved daughter of New Concord, Ohio.
Although I never met Annie, her daughter, Lyn, shared stories about her mother as we walked through her parents’ Bethesda, Maryland, home in January 2018. I was there with fellow curator Cliff Eckle at Lyn’s invitation to select items for the Ohio History Connection’s collections prior to a public sale. Lyn’s stories about ordinary household items like dishes and knick-knacks motivated us to fill all the boxes we brought, eager to have objects that could tell the story of one of Ohio’s most famous and beloved couples. Here are some of my favorite stories about Annie from that day:
While her husband fought halfway around the world in Korea, Annie waited at home. Military families can empathize with Annie; the hours, days, weeks, and months felt so much longer while John was gone. So Annie took up ceramics. Some of the pieces she still displayed in their Bethesda home are a beautiful deep plum color with expertly-shaped flowers adorning them. Most are boldly marked “Annie” or “AG” and “’53” on the bottom. She got quite good at ceramics during John’s absence, but it seems she stopped as soon as he returned.
In 1957, John competed on the popular game show Name That Tune. He had not yet earned the nation’s attention and adoration for his earth orbit, which wouldn’t take place for another five years, and he Annie lived modestly on his military salary. John purchased Annie a set of china with his winnings, and she continued to use that same set for much of the rest of her life. We’ll never know whether she loved the set or simply loved John for gifting it to her; either way, it’s another wonderful chapter in their love story.
It was traditional for U.S. Senators to give gifts to the other Senators and their staff every year at Christmas. Annie played a huge part in gift selection. She commissioned an Ohio potter to make special mugs and plates as a nod to Ohio’s history as a center of pottery production in the U.S. Her hometown of New Concord was close to major potteries in Zanesville, so her selection was certainly personally motivated. And each year, Annie commissioned another version of the Christmas mug or plate. Thanks to Lyn and her brother, David, we have a nearly complete set.
Despite her husband’s fame and her own public recognition, Annie was by all accounts a kind, down-to-earth woman. She collected figurines by Ohio artist Ann Entis. These charming figures of innocent children remind me of the Precious Moments figures my own grandmother collected and proudly display in her living room. She kept her mother-in-law’s recipe book in the kitchen, and the first recipe for ham loaf was the recipe she shared when people asked her what she fed her family. And the framed photos that decorated their home are filled with family and friends; Annie relegated all of the plaques, awards, and honors to her and John’s joint office in the basement.
We are so fortunate to have these objects that speak to Annie’s life and to share her legacy – a life of kindness, humility, philanthropy, and service – with future generations of Ohioans.
Get bundled up and head out to one of these Ohio History Connection sites this winter to get out of the house and get a new perspective on our state’s incredible natural history.