LAKE CITY, SC (WMBF) In every story of our nation's great pioneers, there's a beginning. For Ron McNair's life, that story begins in the heart of Lake City.
In every class there's that one student a teacher will never forget. Thirty-one years and thousands of students later, retired teacher, Edward Cooper says for him, it's always been Ron McNair.
"He was just an outstanding individual. A real go getter."
It was the early 1960s and at that time and there were few instruments to go around at Carver High School, an all black school nestled on the other side of the train tracks.
"I found an old, beat up faded saxophone. I gave that to Ron and he was as proud as if it were a brand new shiny saxophone," says Edward.
Despite his humble beginnings, it seemed that anything Ron touched turned to gold. He excelled in all of his classes and was a top notch athlete in karate and football. Even when he wasn't confined to the walls of his school, his thirst for learning was unquenchable.
His love for knowledge and music never faded over the years. On his first NASA mission in 1984, he made history becoming the second African American to go into space.
"When that space shuttle went up there were great emotions, some laughing some crying just to see that home town boy that I knew in 5th grade in that space shuttle," says former teacher and Principal T.R. Cooper.
On that mission he also become the first person ever to play a saxophone in orbit.
Edward says, "The year before the tragedy he gave me a picture and it has the reed encased in it and it reads 'Thanks for giving me my start in music.'"
To this day, it's honorably displayed in Edward's home. For him this reed, that made an incredible journey to space and back, reminds Edward the impact he had as a teacher. "I'm very proud of that."
Then on January 28, 1986, Ron was planning to write more history in his second mission, recording the first original piece of music in space. Unfortunately, it was something he never got the chance to do.
"5,4,3,2,1." The Challenger shook its shackles of gravity off as it propelled out of our atmosphere. 73 seconds later, the unthinkable happened, the capsule erupted into flames. There was Silence, shock and utter devastation as America watched in horror.
As the decades wear on, Ron McNair's legacy is burning brighter than ever.
"I will say that he was a trailblazer for us, and that's why I think we here in Lake City want to keep his legacy alive," says T.R. Cooper.
The old city library has now been transformed into the John E. McNair Life History Center, a place where students of this generation can learn about the man who continues to inspire them to reach for those unthinkable dreams.
The last chapter of Ron's life has yet to be written. In this same location as the history center and Ron's eternal memorial, his family and friends have plans to build an education museum that will expose math, science and technology to local students who just might become the next great thing to come out of Lake City.
Ron McNair's legacy is living on in other ways. The crater "McNair" on the moon is named after him. Ron's old high school has been renamed from Carver High to Ron E. McNair Middle School plus 16 other schools across the nation are named after him.