Daughters of Hanford: Products of a southeast Washington nuclear reservation
Daughter products (def.): Isotopes that are formed by the radioactive decay of some other isotope. In the case of radium-226, for example, there are 10 successive daughter products, ending in the stable isotope lead-206.
- Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
I submit my mother-in-law, Marye Faye Skelly Cooper, as a "Daughter of Hanford." Her intelligence, energy and desire for excellence have served Hanford, and her family and community, admirably.
Marye Faye Skelly journeyed by train to the Tri-Cities in 1948, fresh from her hometown of Sycamore, Illinois, with two things that would serve her well in her new life here: a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Illinois, and a sense of adventure.
In college, Marye was politically active, serving as class vice president and in the national student organization.
As Marye's Hanford adventure began, her train from Illinois couldn't make it all the way to the Tri-Cities because of a severe flood, and was stopped in Wallula Gap. The train's passengers, after climbing a hillside to reach a road, were taken by bus to the airfield in Pasco. Because of the flood, flying to Richland, and Hanford, was the only option. Marye flew to Richland in a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 180, her first plane ride ever. Her luggage followed somehow, and reached her later at the Desert Inn (now the Hanford House motel), where, despite having a reservation, there was no room for her. So her first lodging in Richland was in the hotel maids' room!
That Spring, Marye saw apple boxes floating on the Columbia River; the flood had collapsed their storage areas on the river's banks. She knew nothing at that time about the enormous role apples would play for decades in her later life.
Marye had heard about Hanford when Orville Hill and Art Matthews, both PhD's, came to the University of Illinois to talk to her class about the research being done at Hanford. Intrigued, Marye applied and was hired.
Marye lived in the women's dormitory in Richland, and ate at the mess hall at the construction camp. She rode the bus to the 300 Area every day to work in the chemistry lab there, in Essential Materials and Research Analysis. Radioactive samples were submitted for analysis in specially-made glass vessels. She enjoyed her work and the people she worked with.
A host of dormitory activities filled Marye's non-working hours. She remembers having a lot of fun on activities arranged by the Dorm Club: boat trips to Hells Canyon, trips to the Oregon Coast, dances, bowling, softball and basketball games (Marye was on the womens' teams), and tennis.
At a Dorm Club dance in 1949, Marye met Cal Cooper, who lived in the men's dormitory and worked at Hanford as an entemologist. Yes, he tested bugs for radioactivity! They enjoyed many of the Dorm Club's social activities together, and hiked and travelled around the Pacific Northwest. Marye climbed Mount St. Helens with Cal, and remembers the beauty of that mountain, now changed forever.
Marye and Cal were married in 1952, and lived in the government-built apartments on Goethals Drive. Later, Marye and Cal made the decision to move to Pateros, Washington, and raise apples and other fruit on Cal's family orchard there. They eventually had four children, and Marye still lives in the Pateros area on their orchard, which is still productive and now is leased to other family members.
After her marriage, and while raising children and serving as accountant for the family orchard business, Marye went on to earn a Masters in Applied Behavior Science at Whitworth College in Spokane. She taught classes at Wenatchee Valley Community College in sociolgy, and gave workshops in assertiveness training, group dynamics, and organizational development. She also consulted with DSHS clients, and worked in the packing and sorting lines in the orchard business so she could have a better of picture of what workers experienced there.
Marye later earned her real estate license, worked at her church's food bank, and studied photography and maintained a darkroom for film development. She made movies, and photographed weddings, as well as documenting family events and local events such as the building of Wells Dam.
Marye is a woman of great intelligence and ability, and will be 89 later this month. I am pleased that her living memories of her time at Hanford can be shared via the Daughters of Hanford project.
My mother, Francis Bishop Nelson, cried when she left Richland in 1945, and I cried when I arrived from Seattle with my husband and son, about 50 years later.
It is ironic that I am living in the place where my parents started their lives together. I was born and raised in Switzerland and never knew much about Hanford until my husband, David Harvey, was hired by Battelle in 1993.
My parents met in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. My father, Russell Nelson, was a chemist and got transferred to Richland to work on the Manhattan Project at Hanford in 1944. My mother was a health physics technician who measured radiation levels on the workers as they left the plant.
I truly admire my mother who braved the difficult conditions, the heat and the dust to follow her husband. His career then took them to Switzerland, where I was born. Dad helped start the Dupont Company in Europe and remained overseas for the rest of his career.
I was fortunate to grow up overseas and live in some beautiful places. When I think about my parents living in a prefab in Richland, it's hard to imagine them happy! Yet, they were, and to their credit they made the best of it. I remember them telling me that the camaraderie that they enjoyed here with other young couples made their experience so worthwhile.
"My mom, Margaret Margie DeGooyer was one of the outstanding women of the Mahattan Project. Her accomplishments have been written up in books, Their Day in the Sun, Plutopia and other documentaries and newspapers.
Margie was born in Wiota, Iowa on August 15, 1921 and graduated high school in the Midwest at age 16. During the war she learned to solo in a plane and she drove a taxicab as her first job.
In 1945, the family moved to Richland, where Margie was hired at Hanford. During the interview she was asked if she liked to sew or cook. Since she didn't like either she chose to cook. She was placed with the chemists analyzing "The Product", which everyone would learn was Plutonium. During that time, she solved several big problems in the Lab. The first time, the chemists and analysts had been working on a solution with some elements. She was a little intimidated by the PhD's and chemical analysts since she had no degree. So she tried solving the problem, as well as doing her own work, on her own. When the group saw her results, the manager of the Lab was called over. After more accomplishments like this, she became known as Madame Curie of the work group. Margie later became the first woman supervisor at Hanford in the mass spec lab. She continued her gift of problem solving. One manager was heard to say when a seemingly unsolvable problem arose, "Get Marge in here. She can fix it with a bobby pin".
When Margie began working, the analysts had no protective goggles or gloves. However, the workers blood and thyroid were tested regularly. They also carried equipment to detect any radiation exposures. She told a news reporter in the '90's, "I was much more fearful of Germans bombing us than of what I was working with", as she recalled numerous air raid drills during the '50's and into the '60's. While the safety lessons were never needed for an actual raid, the procedures helped her and others safely evacuate Z Plant when a release of radioactivity occurred in the building in April, 1962.
Despite the important work by women in the Hanford labs, social barriers remained. Women could only hold eight-hour shifts and were discouraged from wearing slacks even though they changed into coveralls and safety shoes at work.
My mother, Margie DeGooyer, established herself as a pioneer for the working woman with her accomplishments at Hanford and was proud to be recognized as a woman who made a difference at Hanford."
My family's connection with Hanford began in the early 1900s when mother's family moved there taking up farming along with her father's civil engineer work. When Annabelle Stradling was in high school her family moved to Prosser where she met my father, Silas Yeager. They remained in Prosser until spring of 1941. At that time my dad obtained work as an operator at the power plant located at Priest Rapids. He moved the family to Hanford where I attended my last two months of kindergarten.
Our family moved to Priest Rapids in June 1941. We were given a house with utilities included along with Dad's pay of $48-a-month paid in warrants. He worked this job, which entailed 7-days-a-week, the graveyard shift, for 2 1/2 years with no days off. They felt grateful for the job after having gone through the depression years.
The years we lived at Priest Rapids were great fun for us 4 kids (later two more children were added). Looking back and remembering those years I realize how very hard my parents worked. Mother canning on a wood burning range the fruit she obtained from the orchards at Vernita. She made our clothes from hand-me-down garments and our bedding from the backs of the legs of my uncle's wool pant.
Dad gathered driftwood from the river, cutting it up to be used in the kitchen stove and heating stove in the living room. On the day that he had to go to town was extremely difficult. Because there were only 2 other operators there was no one to fill in his
graveyard shift. He would work until morning when Mom would bring him his breakfast and clean clothes. He would leave for town as soon as the relief operator would arrive, drive to town, complete what business needed doing, return home and sleep if there was
time, then to work at midnight.
All this changed for the folks when the Manhattan Project came in. The power plant was sold to Pacific Power and Light. A fourth operator was hired, Dad was put on a rotating shift, got days off, and was paid in cash.
During the 7-1/2 years we lived in Priest Rapids our family got to know some of the Wanapum Indians whose village was about 2 miles upriver from our settlement. Mother wrote letters for their Chief Johnny Buck who would ride his horse to our house, tell her
what she should write, and sometimes sit in the rocking chair on the front porch and look at the magazines Mom kept there. A lady named Martha Johnny pitched her teepee in the field by our house and spent the school year there so her son Lester and Bobby
Tomanawash could go to school. We were invited and attended a First Food Feast in about 1944, which was held in the mat long house. I believe this is one of the events in my life that made me recognize the importance of holding on to tradition and history.
Sixty years later I was given the opportunity to get involved with the history of the Hanford/White Bluffs area. I went to work in the cultural resource department at PNNL where I worked recording prehistoric as well as farmsteads created when settlers came to this area. I got to walk the area where my grandparents and mother lived, saw the school building where my sister went to the 8th grade as the bulldozers started
breaking up the land for the Manhattan Project. Having known some of the folks who gave up their land and homes to help win the war made this job more personal to me.
Having known some of the Wanapums gave me a clear and strong understanding of what is important to the Native Americans. It made me know the importance of protecting the sites important to their culture and history.
Our time at Priest Rapids ended in September 1947 when a lightening storm came down the river, struck our house and burned it to the ground. It was a very emotional time. The government allowed us to move into a farmhouse left vacant when the owners were
forced to move. We remained in the home through the winter and summer of 1948. My dad was transferred to the substation at Union Gap and our family moved to Yakima.
My brothers and sisters scattered to different states and my parents continued living in Yakima. Dad passed away in his late 80's, but Mom lived to the age of 102 years and 7 months. I guess all those years of hard work and worries of raising a family made them tough. We kids have many fond memories of our years growing up at Priest Rapids.
Murrel Yeager Dawson
Daughter of Annabelle Stradling Yeager