Spending her career helping build aircraft and spaceships, Vickie Hopper is now retired and living in Teetersville.
Born in Floyd County, Hopper lost her father, Bill Turner, who was the chief of police in Wayland, when she was only a child. Leaving a family of 10 children, Hopper said her four brothers were drafted into the military and the girls went to work.
“When I was 15 years old, my sister, who was 18, and I went to Detroit, Mich., to look for work in the factories,” said Hopper. “We were just getting hungry and had no money to even buy clothes. I was the type of person who was determined I would find work and help make a way for my family and I did.”
Hopper, now 87, said she got a job at Bud Wheel, producing wheels for Dodge, Ford, Jordan, Studebaker and Wills Saint Claire. They also did steel work on aircraft.
At Bud Wheel, she worked as a riveter, but after about two years she became ill and returned to Floyd County.
“My mother had to come and get me, but I had earned enough money to buy clothes for my family and pay my mother’s rent six months in advance,” said Hopper. “When I was well enough to work, I got another job working in the company store at Elkhorn Coal Company in Floyd County. I married Earl Smith and when he came home from the military he was given a job at the mines where his father was a foreman. He came to me one day and said he was afraid to work in the mines and wanted to move to Middletown, Ohio, to find work. When he found work, I moved there with him and took my mother, my sister and brother and a niece with me.”
While living in Middletown, Hopper found work at Aeronca Inc., where she began as a riveter. She said she was proud to be the “fastest riveter” they had on the B-52 bombers. She said she was later transferred to brazing on Apollo aircraft.
“I worked on the L-1011, KC-135, 707, 747 aircraft with contracts from Boeing, Gremlin, Pratt and Whitney and also NASA Apollo spacecraft,” said Hopper.
“We had to wear white doctor’s coats and white cotton gloves. You couldn’t touch anything with your hands. If you did it would cause a void in the panel. We’d get contracts for the panels, heat shields and stabilizers and after they were built, the parts were shipped out to other places to build the aircraft.”
Hopper said after the death of three astronauts, who died as a result of a door not opening on Apollo 1, she was asked to help build seven escape hatch doors, which after it reached a certain temperature, would automatically pop open. She said she was honored and proud to have completed this work, which eventually saved lives.
After Hopper’s first husband passed away, she remarried John Hopper, who has since passed away. She noted at one time during her employment career she worked as a recreational director at Jenny Wiley State Park.
“I left Aeronca after I was diagnosed with colon cancer,” said Hopper. “My only child, Vickie Skidmore, who is a registered nurse at Harlan ARH Hospital, lived in Harlan so I came to live with her for awhile. After my recovery, I found some property near her and built a home where I have lived for the past 24 years.”
Hopper said she has been “blessed by God.”
“I stood by my window a few days ago and watched three jets flying over my home and I thought to myself, I worked on F-14 and F-16 fighter jets that are carrying scud missiles to Iraq now and somewhere my name is on a work order,” said Hopper. “That’s such an honor for me.”
In addition to her daughter, Hopper has a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.
Reach Nola Sizemore at 606-573-4510 or at firstname.lastname@example.org