“For the first time we were united,
people around the world,
sharing a home,
on a small blue planet,
in a vast dark universe.”
“What do you want with that old stuff?”, Don’s eyes crinkled up, and he grinned.
“I’m going to do a little write-up”, I answered, with the certainty of an overconfident teenager. “I think it will make an interesting story.”
“If you think so.”, he smiled again, and assured me he’d ask his sister Ruth to forward some papers to me, in the mail.
Donald Burlingame Rutherford
That was July 1974, a few years after the moon landing, and I was knee-deep in a conversation about space, with my mother’s first cousin, Donald Rutherford. He and his wife, Rosemary, had driven from their home in Melbourne, Florida, and were spending time in Ogdensburg, with his sister Ruth, and their Aunt Nellie. My Dad, Mother, my brother Roger, and his wife Ruth, and I, had come to Ogdensburg for the day, as we did several times each year, to visit with our American cousins.
It seems fitting, this week, on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, to do that ‘little write-up’, as I’d promised Don, so many years ago. True to his word, he sent those ‘papers’ about his work, to his sister Ruth, who passed them along to me. Don’s career spanned the era of the formative years of the U.S. space agency, early missile testing, and beyond the Apollo missions at the Kennedy Space Center.
From me, his inquisitive younger cousin, who always enjoyed our discussions about space-ships, flying saucers, and Star Trek, the story that follows is a tribute to Donald Burlingame Rutherford, an engineer, working in the earliest days of the space program. Although, he’s no longer with us, passing from this life in 1994, at the age of 86, I hope he would approve, and that I’ve put all his ‘papers’ to good use.
From Lisbon to Ogdensburg
Donald Rutherford, and his sister, Ruth, grew up in the family home at 320 Jersey Avenue, on a quiet residential street, in Ogdensburg, New York. Both born on the family farm in Lisbon, not far from the mighty St. Lawrence River, they spent their early childhood riding horses, playing in the sprawling yard of their country home, until their father, Fred Rutherford, accepted a position with International Harvester, when the family moved to Ogdensburg.
Ruth Rutherford with her brother Donald Rutherford, on the farm in Lisbon, in 1913
Donald and his sister Ruth, on the farm in Lisbon, St. Lawrence County, NY, with their horses
Donald Burlingame Rutherford at school – center of photo, (with a center-part in his hair) – 1920s
320 Jersey Avenue, Ogdensburg, N.Y. – home to Fred and Ethel Rutherford and their children Donald and Ruth
“He’s a real whiz at math, and likes to solve problems.
He’d be a shoe-in as an engineer!”
Donald Burlingame Rutherford at Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York
“Don is noted for three things: being late to classes, loafing in the radio shack,
and week-end trips to Prescott…”
‘The Republican Journal’, June 2, 1930 p. 10
“He was a member of the American Society of Electrical Engineers.”
Clarkson University, Programme, Class of 1930
(from the Clarkson University programme, 1930)
A few years after he finished his studies at Clarkson U., the twenty-six year-old Donald
asked his sweetheart, Ida, to marry him.
She was a high-school teacher, and a graduate of St. Lawrence University.
‘The Advance News’, July 1, 1934 p. 9
“Both are well known and highly esteemed…”
The Hammond Advertiser July 5, 1934 p. 1
Tragedy in Dayton, Ohio
It was in the warm spring days of May, when Don Rutherford, and his young wife Ida, arrived in Dayton, Ohio. Don had accepted a position as one of the engineers, hired to enhance the flight capabilities of U.S. aircraft, at Wright Field. They had barely settled in their new home when tragedy struck the young couple. Driving near the Englewood Dam, on route 48, a truck collided with their car. Ida was rushed to the Good Samaritan hospital, and sadly, Ida passed away on June 5th. She was 37.
Donald later filed a lawsuit, seeking damages from the driver of the truck, Clara Strickle, owner of a local restaurant in Xenia, near Dayton.
‘The Ogdensburg Journal’, June 9, 1942, p. 5
‘The Dayton Herald’, June 20, 1942 p. 14
In 1947, the U.S. government created the United States Air Force, and that same year, combined Wright Field with nearby Patterson Field, creating Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Donald Burlingame Rutherford during his days at Wright-Patterson Air Base
Seven years after Ida’s death,
Donald found love again,
and married Rosemary Schumacker Gillen,
a colleague from the Wright-Patterson Air Base.
Rosemary (Schumacker) Gillen, when she and Donald Rutherford were dating, 1948
It was also Rosemary’s second chance at love. In 1927, when Rosemary was 21, she married Charles Gillen, and they later divorced. They had one son, Charles Raymond Gillen, born 1933. Charles Jr. served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955-1970. He married a young lady from Paris, Solange Riffet, at Fort Monroe, in Virginia, in 1962. Sadly, Rosemary’s son, Charles, became very ill, and passed away in 1987, at the age of 54.
Rosemary rarely spoke about her career, although it is known that she held positions at Wright Field, later Wright-Patterson Air Base, Patrick Air Force Base, as well as Cape Canaveral.
‘The Dayton Daily News’, June 6, 1949, p. 26
Don and his second wife, Rosemary, on their wedding day, with friends, in 1949
Rosemary (Schumacker) Rutherford, with Don’s mother Ethel (Burlingame) Rutherford, and Donald B. Rutherford, with Don’s 1949 Chrysler Windsor
In 1956, Donald was sent to Kessler Air Force Base, in Mississippi, for specialized training in Electronic Countermeasures. He, along with his colleagues, were focusing on the production of missiles specifically designed to deceive radar, sonar or other detection systems. Keesler opened a ground support training program for the Atlas Missile, and Donald was among the first sent for their training program.
Test launch of the Atlas
In the summer of 1956, Donald was sent for additional training at M.I.T., in missile guidance, dynamic measurements, and control.
In the spring of 1959, Donald trained with Martin on the MGM-13 TM-76B tactical surface-launched missile.
MGM-13 – test launch
Don Rutherford, standing, (dark shirt), at the Air Force Missile Test Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, June 7, 1956.
“An Act to provide for research
into the problems of flight
within and outside the Earth’s atmosphere,
and for other purposes.”
The National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA)
was established on October 1, 1958,
Preparation of NIKE Rocket to be fired, simultaneously with the MINUTEMAN, March 18, 1963, U.S. Air Force Missile Test Center – Don Rutherford (standing-rt.)
‘Minuteman’ test launch
Don Rutherford (left) with colleagues, at a Pre-Launch Test, U.S. Air Force Missile Test Center June 5, 1963
Pre-Launch Test 3267, June 5, 1963, Air Force Rocket Test Center in Blockhouse – Don Rutherford standing – rear
Donald B. Rutherford with his father Fred Allan Rutherford
Donald B. Rutherford receives Certificate of Service, from the U.S. Air Force
Donald worked at Patrick Air Force Base, where he took part in a variety of missile, and manned and unmanned space programs in the 1960s.
Both Don and Rosemary were offered positions at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and they worked there for many years.
On February 6, 1959, the first successful test firing of a Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile was achieved.
NASA’s ‘Mercury’ and ‘Gemini’ space flights were launched from Cape Canaveral, as well as the ‘Apollo’ flights.
Donald Burlingame Rutherford – rt.
50th anniversary of Donald Rutherford’s graduation – 1930-1980
Donald and Rosemary’s home in Melbourne, Florida.
Lt to rt: Ruth Rutherford, Rosemary (Schumacker) Rutherford, Fred Rutherford, Donald Rutherford, Nellie Rutherford
When Don and Rosemary retired, they purchased two blocks of properties near their home in Melbourne, Florida, renting them out. In their spare time, they spent many happy days on their sailboat, along the sunny Florida coast. Both were dog lovers, and always had two or three well-loved, and well-spoiled pets in their home.
Don and Rosemary in their retirement years
One of their favourite television shows was ‘Jeopardy’. As they became older, they even planned their day so they could be home in time to watch the show. One night after ‘Jeopardy’ was over, Rosemary could not wake Don. He had passed away during the show. He was 86 years old.
Brookeside Cemetery, Waddington, NY
letter of condolences from Clarkson University to Rosemary Rutherford, 1994
Rosemary (Schumacker) Rutherford, passed away on Valentine’s Day, 1996, age 90, at the Meridian Nursing Home, Melbourne, Florida. Her son predeceased her in 1987, and he and his wife, Solange, had no children. There were no known survivors.
Rutherford siblings – 1889
Don Burlingame Rutherford’s father (left)
Audry (Rutherford) Stafford’s father (center)
L – Fred Rutherford, middle – Charles Rutherford, rt – May Rutherford, photo: 1889, other siblings: Nellie Rutherford, born 1897, Robbie, died in infancy
Fred and Charles were brothers. Fred Allan Rutherford and his wife Ethel (Burlingame) Rutherford, had two children: Donald Burlingame Rutherford, and Ruth Rutherford. Charles Herbert Rutherford and his wife Dorothy (Woolsey) Rutherford, had four daughters and one son: Dorothea ‘Dolly’ Rutherford (Glover), Mildred ‘Mill’ Rutherford (Waterhouse) , Audry Rutherford (Stafford), Muriel Rutherford, and Jack Rutherford.
Standing l.to rt. Ruth (Parks) Stafford, Roger Stafford, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, Rosemary Rutherford, Donald Rutherford, – seated – Ruth Rutherford (Don’s sister) and her little dog Rastus. photo: 1976, Stafford family collection.
NASA began with a group of engineers working with the NACA, (National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics ), along with engineers transferred from the Vanguard program and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Toward the end of the 1960s, there were over 14,000 engineers working on design and testing, of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rocket-propulsion systems, many of these equipped to operate beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
These engineers, men and women, worked in anonymity. Many worked at test facilities, and most weren’t able to discuss their work with friends, or even family. Some worked on projects for years, and faced failure after failure, before achieving any success. They were the unsung heroes of the space program, and this story is dedicated to the many thousands, who worked behind the scenes, in the shadow of heroes.
“For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon, and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace,” John F. Kennedy, 1961.