Palmetto Berries and NASA: Week of August 14th

Hello, everyone!

This week I’ve been working on two new oral histories–actually, two stories of Cape Canaveral. One is for a gentleman named Charles Terryn, whose father worked as a palmetto berry farmer in Cape Canaveral, and the other is for a gentleman named Guenter Wendt, who was a mechanical engineer for NASA beginning with the Mercury Program.


Charles Terryn grew up at Cape Canaveral with his extended family, including his grandmother who owned a convenience store selling sodas, snacks, and gasoline to residents, and later to military personnel who came to work at the Cape. Charles talks a lot about his father’s business of growing, harvesting, and processing palmetto berries, which were sold and shipped to pharmaceutical companies to be used in medicinal products. This involved long days from dawn ’til dusk, all they way from autumn to late spring.

I was curious as to what medical purpose the berries serve and found out that they are mostly used in products to help with male prostate conditions. The berries look like this:

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Palmetto Berries (Photo credit to the Tampa Bay Times)

(These berries are no longer legal to harvest in the wild in Florida due to them being a crucial part of the local food chain.)

Like with most oral histories, I spent a lot of time researching names and places. One great tip I learned is using the census records on ancestry.com to find the names of neighbors and extended family that lived in the same area. In Charles’s case, it worked really well because the Cape Canaveral community was very small.

Newspapers also continue to be a great source for information, such as for finding the name of one of Charles’s Seventh Day Adventist pastors from Cape Canaveral, Pastor DuBose. It’s all about utilizing a variety of resources, and checking them often!

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I found the name of Charles’s pastor, Pastor DuBose, at his historic Seventh Day Adventist Church from Cape Canaveral using online newspaper databases.

The interview also included some interesting information the home Charles Terryn grew up in, which doubled as his grandmother’s store. The building, along with several other buildings, including the above mentioned church, were moved from their original location on the Cape when the Air Force purchased the land and forced the local population to move in 1950. The end of this interview contains footage of Charles and the interviewer, Roz Foster, walking around the historic homes as they stand today in their new location.

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The Terryn Store of Charles’s youth
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The Terryn store as a private home (2007)
  • If you are interested in learning more about the Terryn family and these building I recommend you check out this article written by the interviewer, Roz Foster, in 2008 Spring/summer edition of the Indian River Journal (the official publication of the Brevard County Historical Commission). Click here.

Ironically, it was due to the moving of families like the Terryns that made way for technological progress at the Cape. My next oral history was conducted in 1992 with Guenter Wendt, a German born engineer and official “Pad Leader” at NASA during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Guenter was born in Berlin, Germany and fought with the German Air Force during WWII. His aeronautical engineering skills served him well, but he was unable to continue his work in Germany after the Allied victory.

So, Guenter moved to the United States to be with his father and began work with the Defense contractor McDonnell Aircraft. While Guenter was often strict, even affectionately earning the nickname “der Führer of der Launch Pad” from Astronaut John Glenn, he had close relationships with the astronauts and crew at NASA. He even participated in practical jokes around the facility called “Gotcha’s,” which is discussed in the interview.

Guenter’s personal stories about his time working with these individuals made his interview extremely interesting to watch (especially for space history buffs!).

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Guenter Wendt (left) with Astronaut Walter M. Schirra Jr.

The end of the interview even includes Guenter discussing some of his memorabilia from his time at NASA and narrating clips of launches at the Cape.

Checking the names and spellings for this interview has been particularly interesting. One mention of a contractor for the Gemini Program was difficult to hear; I could only make out the word “Martin.” So I did a little research online and was able to find the full name, Martin-Marietta. This was listed in the “Project Gemini Case File” by NASA in an online PDF. Thankfully my detective work paid off! Check it out!

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I used this document to confirm the “Martin-Marietta Corp” name mentioned in the interview. You can also see McDonnell Astronautics Co. listed 4 lines below (the company Guenter worked for).

While there is a lot of great history in Brevard County, it’s hard to resist the glamour and wonder of NASA’s space program at Cape Canaveral. Even today, if I’m away from home and someone asks where in Florida I’m from, I always tell them, “I live on the Space Coast!”

(As you can see from our binders of NASA photos, the Brevard County Historical Commission also takes space seriously!)

Binders of NASA photographs in the collection of the Brevard County Historical Commission
  • These interviews should be posted next week to the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube page, which I will also link to on this blog. Please look forward to them!

Thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

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