On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union thrust the world into a new age. The success of launching the satellite Sputnik into an orbit around the earth was the start of the great space race. They followed their success just thirty days later by launching Sputnik 2, which was accompanied into orbit by a dog named Luika. The launches struck fear into the hearts of Americans. How could the Soviets, with their “faulty” political system, beat the U.S. in putting a satellite into space?’ They didn’t know that America had the technology to do the same thing one year earlier, but President Eisenhower had vetoed the move. Now the race was on, and an infant space program was trying to play catch up. In 1958 the U.S. satellite Explorer 1 was successfully launched.
The next step for both the U.S. and the Soviets was manned space flight. In America, astronauts were urging officials to move as quickly as possible to get ahead of the Russians, but caution was the byword of the day. Before any man would be sent up, an ape had to go first. Though successful, the flight sending Ham the ape into orbit cost America the claim of putting the first human in space. On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became that man, and America cried out that we follow. Less than one month later, on May 5, Alan Shepherd lifted off from Cape Canaveral and became the first American in space and the first man to manually pilot his craft while he was there. I was standing at my locker, a sophomore at Granite High School when it was announced that Shepherd and his Freedom Seven had returned safely from the newest frontier.
High school was a time I also was broadening my frontiers. I refused to follow in the footsteps of my girlfriends and prepare myself for a job as a secretary. I didn’t want to do it, so I never took the shorthand and dictation classes offered. I wanted to be my person and not something society dictated. I did still shine in our home economics classes, but I never looked upon them as career training. Instead, I found them enjoyable and a great outlet for my creativity. Oddly enough, a class that helped me the most in my career was a lettering class. We were taught different styles of lettering and how to produce signs and posters with professional quality. I enjoyed the class so much that I often would go in during my free time and do signs for various school functions for extra credit. In later years, I fell back on this knowledge to help me prepare displays for television shows or commercial products I was promoting. Still, I was relegated to remedial reading courses all through school. It preyed on my self-confidence, and I did everything I could to show people I was not dumb and would succeed. I remember talking to a counselor once and telling her I intended to attend college. She shook her head and said with admiration and pity that it would mean a lot of hard work on my part. I already knew that. I was no stranger to hard work and wasn’t about to fail.
My confidence improved when I joined the Granite High School pep club. Our instructor was an energetic little lady named Alta Christensen. She went out of her way to accept all of us girls. It didn’t matter if we were good students or good dancers. She made us all feel like good people. She helped us like ourselves and our classmates, and I still remember her molding us into a team where we made countless friends and had fun cheering our school on.
One of my favorite things as a child had always been to travel. Every summer, our family would take a trip. Usually, we came to Salt Lake to see my grandmother or attend a family reunion, and then we’d head somewhere like Yellowstone. Between my sophomore and junior years in school, one of my school teachers organized a trip for some students to the East Coast for a month during the summer. I still remember the price tag for the excursion was $148, and I wasn’t sure how my parents would react to the prospect, but I raced home with the news. Mother immediately vetoed the idea. She didn’t like the idea of her daughter traveling without parents. But my father thought differently; he said it would be a good experience, and I could go if I could earn half of the money. I immediately set out to do just that. I cleaned houses, babysat the neighbor kids, and even mowed lawns, and in no time, I had enough to join in on the trip.
The itinerary took about forty of us by bus to Quebec, down the coast through Maine, and finally into New York. It was a wonderful experience to see the majesty of Quebec and quite an experience for me to visit a country where they spoke a different language and lived a different culture. I remember the lush beauty of the Northeast, where we camped along several lakes, making our way south. Then we made it to the city of all cities, the Big Apple. I had never been outside of Utah before, and the city’s enormity was almost unfathomable. The energy and excitement were contagious, and I immediately fell in love with New York. We were the consummate tourists; I remember looking at the Statue of Liberty and thinking of all those who’d lived for the sight of her and America’s shores. Believe it, or not my favorite stop was at the Automat. Mostly, it was a gleaming black-and-white cafeteria, but what made it different was that all the food was behind a glass door. You would push a button until the selection you wanted to come along, then you’d insert your money and reach in a little door for your food. I’d never seen anything like it, although you could compare it to a room full of vending machines. But it was something completely new, another sign of America’s growing technology.
While in New York, we stayed at the New Yorker Hotel but spent most of the trip camping out. Our chaperones ensured we stayed in a motel at least once a week to have a decent shower, but when we didn’t have that, we just swam every day. We had camping down to a science. We could unload the bus and set up the camp in just a few minutes. There were fire builders, cooks, dishwashers, and people who set up the tents; there was someone for every job. This was a great experience for me that I would use later in life. This trip gave me my first insights into organizing a big group, and that knowledge has paid off throughout my life.