Four decades: Former Stennis employee still involved

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 6, 2017

For almost 50 years, one Pearl River County resident was an eyewitness to the evolution of John C. Stennis Space Center.

Born and raised in Picayune, Betty Jean “Jeannie” Kellar began her career at the NASA rocket testing facility in November of 1965 working with the facility’s filing department. For 48 years and four months, she worked within that same department, though under various contractors.

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Prior to taking the job at Stennis she made $35 per week working in Picayune. But her new position at Stennis doubled her weekly salary and provided her an insight into the federal city not many have. Keller said that knowledge allows her to tell anyone exactly where a street or facility is within Stennis by memory, so long as it existed before her retirement in 2014.

Any time a change was made to a street, building or part of the infrastructure, her office recorded that change, which was transferred to microfilm. By the time of her retirement, her office housed 20,000 drawings and 50,000 microfilm cards that contained all of the revisions conducted through the years.

One of her favorite parts about the job was being able to spectate engine tests.  Kellar said she remembers watching the first engine test at the facility, conducted in 1966 during the Apollo program. The engines during that program were much larger than those of the Shuttle program, and ran off of a fuel she described as pure kerosene. Such a fuel forced a plume of fire from the bucket, rather than the white plumes seen during the tests of this previous generation of space travel.

“Everything they tested, I tried to go see it because it gave me chills,” Kellar said.

While construction of the facility meant that a number of communities had to be relocated, Kellar said it was good for the area because it provided good jobs to local residents graduating college. All six of her children have worked at the facility at some point, three of which still do.

She also recalls when the communities were relocated and the famous story of “Aunt Blue”, who sat on a rocking chair upon her porch while her house was moved down public streets to its new lot. Kellar said her children saw the spectacle first and were so elated that they ran into the house to tell her about it. 

Now 84 and retired, Kellar maintains involvement at Stennis by acting as the president of the Old Timers’ Day Club, which organizes an annual event where past and present employees of the NASA facility gather to catch up and reminisce. This year’s event took place Friday.

Some of the memorable moments from her time at Stennis include meeting John C. Stennis during the ceremony where it was named after him, and being involved in the community projects in Pearl River County. Some of those community projects included Pennies for Your Park and participating in local cleanup efforts.

“I enjoyed my 48 years,” Kellar said.

Kellar became responsible for organizing the Old Timer’s Day when funding for the event dried up, prompting her to find donations. Today, a combination of monetary donations and product donations from local businesses keep it going.

About Julia Arenstam

Staff Writer

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