In 2017, the John Glenn College of Public Affairs awarded 97-year-old Annie Glenn a public service award months after her husband John’s death. Annie Glenn was supposed to make a brief cameo at the following reception but ended up staying for two hours, talking to every person she could. Glenn’s interest in students is just one part of her legacy at Ohio State.
Annie Glenn was born Feb. 17, 1920. In the 100 years she has been alive, she has helped establish the John Glenn College, worked with the Department of Speech and Hearing Science and inspired and engaged with Ohio State students, her university colleagues said of her legacy.
When Chris Adams, director of student services at the John Glenn College, hosted Annie Glenn’s late husband, former Ohio Sen. and astronaut John Glenn, as a guest lecturer for one of his introductory public affairs classes, Adams said Annie Glenn came along. After the lecture was over, she took the time to talk with all of the students in the class and showed a genuine interest in their lives, he said.
John and Annie Glenn would attend nearly every student event they could at the John Glenn College, but one year they missed an end-of-year dinner with the students, Adams said.
“Annie is a huge chocolate fan,” Adams said. “So we saved a piece of chocolate cake for her and Sen. Glenn, and the next day they wrote us a very nice thank you note, thanking us for the cake and expressing their regrets that they weren’t able to make the event and they really missed seeing the students.”
Annie Glenn is no longer doing interviews, though the family appreciates the public interest in her, Hank Wilson, director of communications for the John Glenn College, said.
The Glenns had an open-door policy in John Glenn’s office in Page Hall, where students could come and talk to them, Herb Asher, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State and founding director of the John Glenn College, said. Earlier in Annie Glenn’s life, this would have been “inconceivable” because of her stutter, Asher said.
Almost 90 years ago, Annie Glenn realized she had a speech impediment after reading aloud in the sixth grade, Asher — who has known the Glenns for more than 30 years — said. The speech impediment lasted almost half of her life and took over her speech for almost 40 years.
Trevor Brown, dean of the John Glenn College, said Annie Glenn also took a vested interest in the speech pathology program at Ohio State. Overcoming her stutter was a tremendous accomplishment.
“She couldn’t talk in a way that people could easily understand her,” Brown said. “And yet, she put herself in public settings all the time on [John’s] behalf and behalf of representing the nation’s hopes, even though it caused her great fear, anxiety, and then ultimately she overcame it.”
But, she overcame the speech impediment, saw her husband go to war and space twice, raised two children and helped make Ohio State the university it is today, Asher said.
Brown said he thinks Annie Glenn helped normalize speech impediments by putting a public face to them.
“For so many in the speech and hearing community, she is as much a hero the senator is,” Brown said.
Annie and John Glenn had a true partnership, Asher said.
“If you can imagine, in this relationship, a husband who went off to a war twice in World War II and Korea, a husband who went into space twice including that first scary Mercury flight, a family — they have two wonderful children in Lyn and David and grandchildren — just a very, very wonderful partnership. I think that’s one thing to understand about them,” Asher said.
The John Glenn College, initially called the Glenn Institute, was established in 1999, when John Glenn donated documents and memorabilia from his time in the U.S. Senate, his military career and from NASA, according to the college’s website.
“He wanted something living,” Wilson said.
Additionally, Annie Glenn shared John Glenn’s commitment to inspiring citizenship and developing leadership, Adams said.
“John was the centerpiece, but they were always together,” Brown said. “I think he drew a lot of strength from her.”
John Glenn died in 2016 at 95 years old.
Overall, Adams said he believes Annie Glenn’s greatest accomplishment is her advocacy.
“[She was] a tireless advocate throughout her life, whether it was for people with speech disabilities or whether it was for championing some of Sen. Glenn’s causes or just being a supporter and advocate for young people,” Adams said.
Adams said he believes Annie Glenn has had an equal impact on the Department of Speech and Hearing Science as she has on the John Glenn College.
“She is just as responsible for the Glenn College as he was,” Adams said.