Mrs. Church — that was her professional name —answered a help-wanted ad in 1951 for an industrial nurse at McDonnell Aircraft and got the job.
Her duties put her in contact with the bosses, including the top boss: James S. McDonnell, known as “Mr. Mac.”
The company made fighter planes in its plant at Lambert Field. In 1959, it won a government contract to build the Mercury capsule, which was to be America’s first manned space vehicle.
The company advertised for an aerospace physician. Mrs. Church waited until she was in the executive suite giving a shot to Mr. Mac to bring up the subject.
“Where there’s a doctor, there’s always a nurse,” she said.
Mr. Mac replied: “Let me check on that.”
He did and told Mrs. Church that she would need additional training, including physiology and scuba diving.
Mrs. Church enrolled at Washington University night school and took scuba lessons at the YMCA in Brentwood. She became the nurse to the first seven astronauts while they trained at the McDonnell facility. She accompanied them on some trips to Cape Canaveral, Fla.