"I have never forgotten the promises [I made] that day in Logtown. I have kept foremost in my mind [the fact] that the people of Hancock County willingly allowed over 40 percent of the land area of [their] county to become a federal installation. In return, the federal government assured the people of Hancock County and Mississippi that the facility would be used. As long as I have anything to do with it, that promise of the federal government can and will be met!"
Those words were reiterated by the late U.S. Senator John C. Stennis when he spoke on several occasions at John C. Stennis Space Center. Stennis' original speech was delivered on Nov. 1, 1961, in Logtown, where an estimated 1,500 area residents listened as he informed them that NASA was buying their land and that of their neighbors in Gainesville, Napoleon, Westonia and Santa Rosa.
Stennis' 50-year-old promise is still prevalent today as generations of former area residents observe the space center's golden anniversary on Oct. 25, the date NASA publicly announced plans to open a rocket engine test facility in Hancock County.
Reaping the benefits from the late senator's promise are descendants of the late James and Janie Thigpen, formerly of Santa Rosa. The Thigpens were among 660 Hancock County families relocated to make way for the rocket testing facility.
Of the 10 Thigpen siblings, three brothers worked at Stennis. Four of the siblings have children and grandchildren now employed at the center. Overall, 24 relatives of the Thigpen clan, including spouses, have worked at Stennis at one time or another.
The late Helen Thigpen Anderson's husband, James "Andy" Anderson, began work at what was then called the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) with General Electric (GE), retiring 24 years later.
"He (Sen. Stennis) pretty well kept the promise," said 84-year-old Andy Anderson of Carriere. "The ones that applied got jobs. If it weren't for Stennis (Space Center), there wouldn't be any jobs around. By (Stennis) being there, we have a fairly decent economy."
Stennis' promise in 1961 has also provided a quality of life for other Mississippi families. Paragon employee Roger Walters Sr.'s entire family – wife Deborah, daughter Shawana (Robbie) Miller and son Roger "Bubba" (Lacie) Walters Jr. – works for Jacobs Technology Facility Operating Services Contract (FOSC) group. They all reside in outlying areas of Picayune.
Stennis Space Center is a federal city, home to about 30 federal, state, academic and private organizations and several technology-based companies that provide a variety of career choices for the skilled workers, as well as opportunities for professionals.
Lee Paul, now deceased, migrated to MTF as a field engineer in 1962 with Raytheon Company. He later accepted a position with GE and remained on-site until his retirement in 1985.
Paul's wife, Helen, served in various secretarial positions for almost 25 years. Their daughter, Beth P. Keith, has worked at Stennis for more than seven years, including her current stint at the NASA Shared Services Center on-site. "My family has always taken great pride in being a part of the space program," said Keith of Bay St. Louis. "When my dad arrived in Mississippi in 1962 and became involved with the MTF, he put his roots down and said, 'We're staying.' Here I am, almost 50 years later, still a part of this wonderful program."
Colorado native Dick Hogue was recruited by GE while working in Denver. Hogue's 22 years at Stennis paved the way for his two children to build careers at Stennis as well. Daughter Shelly Hogue Lunsford, of Long Beach, works with ASRC Research and Technology Solutions, and son Stan Hogue, of Diamondhead, is employed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.
"Working at Stennis Space Center has afforded me opportunities to grow in my chosen field of computer science," Lunsford said. "Not only has Stennis provided a quality of life for my family, but it has allowed provisions for my children to seek higher education (at nearby institutions)."
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