Peggy Martin, a resident at Life Care Center of Blount County in Louisville, Tennessee, has many passions.
She’s a sweet lady, ready to tell you all about her decades of leading children’s choir at church and very ready to sing “The B-I-B-L-E” with you. She has also been a part of American history.
“God put us here to do His will, not ours,” Martin said. “You need to love your neighbors.”
For Martin, it was that embracing of neighborly duty that led to fulfillment, whether in the choir or in her career.
Martin grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. She married Robert Earl Martin, an engineer who helped build bridges. In the 1960s, the young couple went to work at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Robert worked hands-on with the technology that helped launch the U.S. into the space race.
The Cold War was in full swing, and the U.S. put many resources into the space program. Wernher von Braun, a German engineer, was brought to America to help get the program off the ground. Following World War II, German engineers were considered top-notch, and von Braun was one of the smartest. The former enemy became an ally, embracing life in the United States and a vibrant Christian faith.
Martin got a job as an administrative assistant at the space center, helping von Braun and his team. Sometimes she would copy what they wrote. Sometimes she would mop the floors. She did whatever needed to be done.
“I used to know everybody in that office,” Martin remembered. “They were some of the nicest people.”
The work the Martins and the Marshall Space Flight Center did was soon seen around the world. Von Braun and his team were designing and building the Saturn V rockets. These were the rockets that lifted men into space as part of the Apollo program. Astronauts were able to go into orbit around the moon because of the designs, including the famous Apollo 11 lunar landing.
Martin’s daughter, Karen McKinney, was young when her parents were working for Marshall, and she remembers the experience of living close to the action.
“They used to test the rocket engines,” McKinney said. “The whole place would feel like an earthquake. It would shake the whole county.”
Though the family was never able to be in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the launches, Martin, Robert and McKinney would gather around the TV set and watch.
“Every time there was a landing somewhere, I would sweat bullets,” Martin remembered.
Around 1968, the family moved. Eventually, they settled in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area, and again Martin became a part of U.S. history. She went to work for the U.S. Department of Energy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the two nuclear labs used in the Manhattan Project.
For several years, Martin was an administrative assistant in one of the reactor offices.
Martin’s time at ORNL brought challenges, however, as she and her co-workers were affected by the radiation. Many have passed away as a result of health complications brought on by the exposure, and Martin herself developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Today, Martin is a resident at Life Care Center of Blount County, and she doesn’t dwell much on her trials and tribulations. She focuses instead on her blessings, her family and her faith. She has always loved people, and that’s something she carries with her still.