Five, Four, Three, Two, One, blast-off. She watched her beloved husband, sitting atop a massive Redstone rocket, heading for outer space. He would be the first American to orbit the earth. We can only imagine the anxiety that Annie Glenn must have had on this historical day of February 20, 1962. Her husband, John Glenn, would become instantly famous upon his return from his trip around the world. This notoriety would shine a light also on his wife Annie, which made her life even  more of a struggle. Annie had a severe speech impediment which caused her to stutter 85% of the time. It was embarrassing and humiliating for her and contributed to a lot of hurt, especially in her younger years. 

She was born Anna Margaret Castor in Columbus Ohio on February 17, 1920. She and John had a true love story and they both represented all that is good about our country. They literally had been together since they were toddlers. Annie’s father was a dentist and moved the family to New Concord Ohio when she was three years old. Her parents joined a monthly card club called “Twice 5 Club”. As it so happened, John Glenn’s parents were also part of the club, and the two toddlers began playing together and later went to school together. Annie was always a good student; however, her stuttering would haunt her through much of her life. One of the first experiences of humiliation came when she was in the sixth grade. As she recited a poem before the class, one of the students began to laugh at her.

John and Annie Glenn

It was then that Annie realized she was not normal. That didn’t stop John from pursuing this dark eyed beauty though, and they began dating in junior high school. Annie always dreamed of being a teacher but instead pursued a music degree. Music was Annie’s escape as she could play the organ and sing without stuttering. 

According to the ADA, Americans with Disability Act, stuttering is a disability. “A disability is an impairment that significantly impacts a major life activity.” The ADA includes “speaking” and “communication” as a major life activity. So, if the stutter significantly affects one’s ability to communicate it will be a disability. 

Soon to be husband John, gave Annie an engagement ring shortly before heading off to flight training in the Marine Corps. World War II would interrupt their love affair. As the story goes, on a cold January morning in 1944, before shipping out for combat in the South Pacific, John held Annie tightly and said to her “I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.” “Don’t be long,” Annie responded. From that day on she kept a gum wrapper in her purse. John was a distinguished pilot during his time in World War II and was one of seven military test pilots selected by NASA in 1959, as the nation’s first astronauts. 

Upon John’s return from orbit, he and Annie were revered and celebrated in a tickertape parade in New York City. Sadly, this spotlight would also painfully reveal Annie’s stuttering. John did his best to protect Annie from embarrassment as much as he could. Even going so far as to turn down then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s request to come to their home. Nonetheless, they would later become good friends with Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird. As their lives moved forward, John had begun a campaign for U.S. Senate in 1964. However, after a near fatal fall in their bathroom, John was unable to keep up his run. Annie knew what she had to do and hit the campaign trail on John’s behalf. She took along her closest friend and wife of astronaut Scott Carpenter, Rene, to be her voice. It would take another 10 years, but husband John was elected to the Senate in 1974 and served for 24 years. Annie was a big part of that success.

One morning in 1973, John and Annie were watching the “Today” show and heard Dr. Ronald Webster, a psychologist and director of the Communications Research Institute at Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, describe a new treatment he had developed for stutterers.

Three weeks later Annie called John from Hollins. As husband John wept, he heard Annie do something she hadn’t done in 53 years, she spoke a complete sentence without stuttering. Later, John would run for president, and Annie was delivering speeches across the country on John’s behalf.

In 1984, Annie Glenn began devoting herself to helping other stutterers and people with disabilities. In 1983, she received the first national award of the American Speech and Hearing Association for “providing an inspiring model for people with communicative disorders.”

In 1987, the National Association for Hearing and Speech Action honored her by asking her to present the first annual Annie Glenn Award for achieving distinction despite a communicative disorder. 

Annie Glenn was a hero. She overcame her disability and inspired others to do the same. Her life was never about Annie, it was about devotion to her country, her family and those who were like her, helping them overcome.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine commented “There wouldn’t have been a John Glenn without Annie Glenn.”

Roughly a decade ago, Annie, in her 80s, was invited to lecture a speech and hearing class at Ohio State University. Facing the students, she finally had realized her dream of being a teacher. “The tears were rolling down my cheeks,” she later said.

Her husband John Glenn died on December 8, 2016 at age 95. Annie passed on May 19, 2020 at 100 years of age. She will rest alongside her beloved husband in Arlington National Cemetery. She lived her entire life with a man who became universally revered, but to millions across the globe Annie Glenn was her own kind of hero. Let’s all take notice.

Resource: The Columbus Dispatch