Flagstaff Archives - StoryCorps

A Pandemic Couldn’t Stop Her: A Lifelong Voter Finds Inspiration From Her Mother

Helen Merrill, age 91, prides herself on one simple fact: that in her lifetime, she’s never missed a single presidential election. 

It’s a determination that she traces back to her mother, Blanche, a woman who raised twelve children in rural Iowa.

Blanche, like millions of others, had become seriously ill during the 1918 flu pandemic. She was also a supporter of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which was fighting for the right to vote.

By the 1920 election, Blanche had still not fully recovered, but the 19th Amendment had been passed and she was determined to exercise her newly given right.

Nearly one hundred years later, Helen came to StoryCorps with her granddaughter, Elizabeth, to remember how Blanche made it to the polls, and how her strength continues to inspire her to this day.

Top Photo: Helen Merrill and Elizabeth Hartley in 2017. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley.
Middle Photo: Ralph and Blanche Reeves in 1944. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley. 
Bottom Photo: Helen Merrill celebrating Independence Day in July 2018. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley.

Originally aired October 16, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Carolyn Shoemaker and Phred Salazar

In her early 50s, Carolyn Shoemaker began a career in astronomy. While she had no formal training, she did have the support and encouragement of her husband, Eugene “Gene” Shoemaker. shoemaker2Gene was a renowned astrogeologist and one of the founders of the field of planetary science, which studies the geology of planets, asteroids, and other celestial bodies in our solar system.

Together they worked side-by-side for 17 years, taking pictures of the night sky in search of comets and asteroids, and in 1993, along with astronomer David Levy, they made their most significant discovery—Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. In 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which had broken apart, slammed into Jupiter offering astronomers around the world their first opportunity to see the effects of two solar system bodies colliding.

In total, over the course of her career, Carolyn is credited with discovering more than 800 asteroids and 32 comets.

In 1997, while on an annual field trip to Australia, the car Carolyn and Gene were in was in a head-on collision with another vehicle. Gene died from the accident, and while Carolyn was still in the hospital recovering from her injuries, one of his former students, shoemaker3Dr. Carolyn Porco, contacted her to see what she thought of having Gene’s ashes put on the Moon. Carolyn enthusiastically agreed to the idea and with the help of people Dr. Porco knew at NASA, arrangements were made for his cremated remains to go into space as part of the Lunar Prospector mission in January 1998.

To this day, Gene is the only person whose ashes have been placed on the Moon.

Carolyn continued her work as an astronomer following Gene’s death and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and received both the Rittenhouse Medal for outstanding achievement in astronomy, and the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal.

At StoryCorps, she talked with her son-in-law, Phred Salazar (pictured in the player above), about working closely with her husband and her decision to make the Moon his final resting place.

Originally aired July 8, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker in 1986 sitting in front of an an 18-inch Schmidt telescope photographed by Jonathan Blair. Photo courtesy of J.Blair/USGS.
Above: Photo of the design created by Dr. Carolyn Porco of the inscription etched onto the capsule of Eugene’s remains sent to the Moon. Photo courtesy of Dr. Carolyn Porco.

Karen Washabau and Dave Washabau

Karen Washabau tells her husband, Dave, about Aunt Meff. Karen wrote letters to Aunt Meff when she was younger, and when Aunt Meff died, Karen found hundreds of her letters stashed in the back of a cupboard when cleaning out her house.

Originally aired August 18, 2006, on NPR’s Morning Edition.