By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — Sen. John Glenn (D., O.) has donated the work of his life – ranging from the pith helmet he wore in World War II to a copy of his first Senate speech – to Ohio State University, he announced yesterday.
The gift includes more than 1,800 boxes of documents, dating to his days as a pioneer astronaut, and more than 300 cubic feet of awards, spaceship parts, and other artifacts of his legendary life.
“I’m very excited it will find a permanent home at Ohio State,” the 77-year-old senator said.
Some of those artifacts will end up in Toledo’s COSI, as part of the gift agreement. COSI’s Columbus and Toledo museums and Muskingum College in New Concord will share the Glenn collection with Ohio State.
“I am happy beyond words,” said Kathy Sullivan, president of COSI and a former NASA astronaut.
Muskingum College is Mr. Glenn’s alma mater.
As part of the gift, Mr. Glenn will teach honors seminars at Ohio State and be available to students and faculty for discussion. He has been appointed to three positions at the school: university honors distinguished fellow, adjunct professor in the school of public policy and management, and adjunct professor in the department of political science.
The positions are effective Nov. 1, but Mr. Glenn will not become actively involved in the university until his Senate term ends in January, 1999. He will not be reimbursed.
Mr. Glenn said he hopes the gift will make students excited about public service.
“A lot of young people have developed such a cynicism towards government and politics,” Mr. Glenn said. “We have a duty to dispel that. You get the kids in there and generate their curiosity.
“I think it’s extremely important.”
The papers will be available to students, faculty, and scholars for research.
The senator displayed a few of the items to be donated – “things I call junk,” he said – including a Stetson hat last adjusted by Lyndon Johnson, the failed thruster from his Friendship 7 spaceflight, and the battle helmet worn by his father in World War I.
“It’s just some things from my basement I threw into a box yesterday afternoon,” he said. “I’m very excited all this will find a permanent home at Ohio State.”
Mr. Glenn said his retirement from the Senate is not a signal that he plans to slow down.
“The decision not to run again was a difficult one, but I think it was the right one,” he said. “There’s just no cure for the common birthday.”
After the announcement, he spoke excitedly about his desire to return to space after his term ends to help scientists examine the problems of aging in zero gravity.
“The possibility of going back into space is very interesting to me,” he said. “I’ve wanted to go back up for 30 years.”
He said he will have enough time during breaks in the Senate’s session next year to train for liftoff shortly after his term ends. NASA officials are investigating the possibility of such a voyage.
The senator’s gift joins similar collections at Ohio State on writer James Thurber, explorer Richard Byrd, and dancer Twyla Tharp.
“This is clearly the right stuff,” said Alex Shumate, head of the board of trustees. “Senator Glenn is a true American hero.”
It will likely be 1999 before any COSI site gets any of Mr. Glenn’s possessions, Ms. Sullivan of COSI said. It will take that long to catalog enough of the material to begin displaying some parts of the gift, she said.
Librarians estimate that it could take five or six years to catalogue Mr. Glenn’s papers.