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Glenn a Favorite in His Hometown

September 26, 1998

NEW CONCORD, Ohio (AP) _ Dick Hale was in the coal mines the day John Glenn orbited the Earth in 1962 and didn’t think it was such a big deal. What he really can’t understand, though, is why his town’s home-grown hero wants to go up again.

``I think he’s foolish and I don’t like spending a lot of money for something that’s not necessary,″ the retired miner said while finishing off a fried bologna sandwich at a diner.

Gene Lambert, who also spent years in the coal fields, said he admires Ohio’s 77-year-old senator, but he thinks the mission next month aboard Discovery was scheduled with an eye on the public.

``He’s great for publicity,″ Lambert said.

Glenn left New Concord five decades ago and rarely returns, dividing his time between Washington and Columbus 65 miles to the west. Even the Ohio Historical Society marker at the town line gives him second billing to Muskingum College, his alma mater.

But he’s a favorite son all the same, and not everyone in New Concord (pop. 2,000) is critical of his nine-day mission.

Mark Fields, a 20-year-old sophomore business major at Muskingum, said he knew little about Glenn when he arrived from Mount Sterling, Ky.

``I knew he was an astronaut and I knew he was a senator from Ohio, but that’s about it,″ Fields said. ``But I learned he was a good person and it (the shuttle flight) should be good for the college.″

Fields and Sarah Akkerman, a sophomore from Columbus, said they believe including Glenn on the Oct. 29 mission will allow NASA to study how space flight affects older people. That’s the official reason the National Aeronautics and Space Administration chose him. Glenn and the agency insist publicity isn’t a factor.

About as close as you can get to the sky in Glenn’s hometown is the hilltop college. It was there that Yan Sun, an assistant art professor, painted a formal portrait of Glenn.

Yan, 44, was an elementary school student in China when Glenn soared into space for his three orbits, the first American to do so. While the communist government frowned on all things American, the Chinese people admired Glenn, Yan said.

``We respect a hero, a real hero. My son is 10 years old. He’s following him and will try to go to space in the future,″ Yan said.

Working only with photographs of Glenn, Yan completed the portrait this year. It so impressed college officials, they bought it for an undisclosed price to display on campus.

Glenn studied mathematics at Muskingum from 1939 to 1942, when he left to enter an aviation cadet program during World War II. The college awarded him a bachelor of science degree in 1962. His name adorns the gymnasium that opened the same year he first went into space.

``We needed a name on it,″ college spokeswoman Janice Tucker said with a laugh.

The college is in the midst of a two-month celebration of Glenn’s return to space. It has opened a display in the administration building that features replicas of Discovery and of Friendship 7, the capsule that propelled Glenn into space in 1962.

It also features a vintage 30-minute documentary about Glenn, narrated by the late Jack Webb. More than 1,000 people have visited the exhibit since it opened Aug. 30, Ms. Tucker said.

The college is publicizing the launch with a poster that shows the shuttle appearing to lift off behind the gym. The campus bookstore is stacked with Glenn T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and watches.

The students know about Glenn mostly through history lessons. Visits to Muskingum since he was elected to the Senate in 1974 have been infrequent, but that will change after his second flight.

Glenn and his wife, Annie, will return to Muskingum occasionally as alumni professors of public affairs and speech communications, respectively. Mrs. Glenn also grew up in New Concord and attended Muskingum.

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