Twenty-four years ago, August 25,1994, was a very special day in Vernon Parish.
The Leesville Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce proclaimed this day as "Dr. Carolyn Leach Huntoon Day."
Huntoon, a 1958 Leesville High School graduate, had been appointed Director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in January of 1994.
She was the first woman to direct a NASA center.
Before being selected for this position, she served as the center's Director of Space and Life Sciences, a position she held since 1987.
"This is quite an honor for Carolyn, being the first woman appointed to the job and especially being from Vernon Parish," Chamber Executive Bill Bailey said in a 1994 Leesville Daily Leader article by Doris Maricle.
The day was filled with events, beginning with a visit from Huntoon to local elementary schools. She and Lt. Col. James D. Halsell, Jr. of Monroe spoke in the auditorium at Leesville High School.
Attending the ceremony were family members, invited guests from all parts of the country, local and state dignitaries, educational leaders, LHS faculty and staff members and over 1200 LHS students.
Halsell was the pilot of the Columbia space shuttle, that had recently gone to space that July.
Halsell was also the first person from Louisiana to go to space. As part of the program Lt. Col. Halsell, showed and narrated a 15-minute film of he and his crew's activities within the spacecraft on the 14 days and 18 hour orbit aboard the Columbia space shuttle.
"You could have heard a pin drop during the amazing presentation," Billy Crawford, former LHS principal, remembered.
“Following the assembly, the day's activities included a noon luncheon for friends and relatives, a 2 p.m. coffee, reception and presentation at the Museum of West Louisiana, 4 p.m. presentations and proclamations on the lawn of the Vernon Parish Courthouse, followed by a walk up third Street to Celebrations for an informal gathering with food and music,” remembered Edwin Cabra, a member of the Chamber planning committee.
Huntoon is the only woman to have served as the director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
She also served presidents George W. Bush and William Clinton as the Department of Energy's assistant secretary for Environmental Management, a Senate-confirmed position.
She managed and directed medical research and operations for all manned space flight missions for life science experiments.
Although Huntoon had left Vernon Parish to go on and accomplish so much, she always kept in touch with her roots. She and her group of friends try and gather every year in Leesville to make sure they stay updated in each others lives.
In September of 2014, Women in Aerospace presented her with a lifetime achievement award for her "sustained and exemplary leadership at NASA, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Energy, her exceptional scientific contributions towards understanding the effects of spaceflight on the human body, and her dedication and mentorship of astronauts and aerospace professionals."
Huntoon has kept busy in her retirement. She has written more than 200 papers, book chapters and books that reflect her research on the endocrine control of fluid and electrolyte metabolism and the physiological effects of spaceflight. She serves as consultant to several technical organizations and has fellowship status in the American Astronautical Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Aerospace Medical Association.
While Dr. Carolyn Huntoon Day did not become an annual tradition, It was certainly a special day for Vernon Parish--a day to remember.