West: Uncle John had stars in his eyes

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When you hit a certain age, life seems to rip by. A year seems just a few months long. A day is just a blink.
To some of you, this seems nutty, but if you have reached that age, you know what I mean.

I’m writing in reference to my Uncle John Van Hooser Jr. whose passing is noted on page 2 of today’s Cannon Courier.

When I was a kid, I called him “Unc” or “Junior.” My grandfather was John, but I called him “Pa.”
In later years, he preferred to be called John. By later years, I mean when he was in college at good, ole Middle Tennessee State and later at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“Pa and Granny” Van Hooser were exceptional and were community leaders in Short Mountain. They put all three kids; my Mom, my Aunt Faye and my Uncle John through college. That gave all three of them a real plus when it came to achievement.

My Mother, Sara Van Hooser West, was an educator who rose to the top of both Murfreesboro City Schools and Rutherford County Schools. She traveled the world both visiting and teaching. Can you imagine teaching in China? My Mother did.

My Aunt Faye was a scientist. She worked at Oak Ridge at the Y-12 plant before joining Union Carbine as a chemist.

My Uncle John went straight to the top. He was a rocket man. Yes, he was an electrical engineer at NASA. And that was just a start.

He worked on the Apollo program. Remember that one? It put men on the moon back in the glory days of the U.S. space program.

Following the Apollo and Skylab Programs, he was reassigned as a lead engineer to the Shuttle Design Team.
His 20 years of Shuttle service included system engineer, Lead Test Engineer for the Shuttle Approach and Land Testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Shuttle Project Engineer, Shuttle Payload Integration Manager for Scientific and DoD Payloads, and Chief of Shuttle Payload Operations Division.

One little project he worked on and coordinated was that famous robotic arm that came in so handy on the shuttle.

Following his Shuttle activities, Uncle John was an engineering consultant to the Director of Installation Operations.
Later in his career, he was Manager for Comprehensive Master Planning, Aircraft Management, NASA/AF Liaison Office located at Patrick Air Force Base for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla. He is responsible for comprehensive master planning for KSC and for establishing a comprehensive master plan for the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, working with KSC elements, USAF, the community, state, and other federal agencies. Additionally duties include the management of the NASA/KSC Aircraft and landing fields.

Yep, he was a vital part of the U.S. Space program.

But, he was never far from his roots.

He was born and raised in Woodbury. He attended Short Mountain Elementary and graduated from Cannon County High School.

He married a Woodbury girl, the former Teresa St. John. It was a good thing that he married Teresa. Otherwise he would have never passed English in college. Back in those days, “Unc” couldn’t spell squat.

But when it came to mechanics and electrical works, he was an absolute genius. That ability came naturally to him as a descendant of his father, who read every world of Popular Mechanics magazine and built many of the projects highlighted in that magazine.

They were the first in that neck of the woods to have radio and then TV. I can remember when I was a little kid, coming up to visit every Saturday. Us little kids went to bed and the grown-ups stayed up and watched wrestling.

The years rushed by....

John spent his last years alternating between Short Mountain and Florida. Here he spent much time rebuilding the old homeplace and researching his family tree. His research included trying to maintain a map of the country stores and farms of Short Mountain. His genius and maps shot from space helped in that venture.

Now it is up to us, in particular his son, Patrick Van Hooser, to keep up his hard work.

Read more from:
John Van Hooser, Mike West
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Members Opinions:
December 10, 2013 at 2:14pm
A great column, about an extraordinary man and family ... thanks for sharing.
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