Rocket Boys Festival October 3rd - 5th, 2014
Check out Andy Jackson's photos from 2013 Rocket Boys Festival at
Homer "Sonny" Hickam, Jr. was born and raised in Coalwood, West Virginia. He was the second son of Homer (Sr.) and Elsie Hickam. During his high school years, his father was the mine superintendent in town and his mother was an artist. "Sonny" dreamed of someday working in the space business and formed the Big Creek Missile Agency (named after Big Creek High School) to learn how to build rockets. He eventually reached his dream of working for NASA, but is now retired from the agency and has become a highly acclaimed writer. His first book was the best-selling nautical wartime history, Torpedo Junction. His first memoir, Rocket Boys, which told the story of his adventures in Coalwood as a teenage rocket scientist, soared to the top of the best seller lists and was turned into the movie October Sky. He has written a number of best-sellers since, including his most recent, a novel set on the moon titled Crater. He is a proud Vietnam veteran, an accomplished scuba instructor, and a dedicated amateur paleontologist. Homer is married to Linda Terry Hickam, an artist who also works as Homer's first editor and personal assistant. The couple love their cats and share their time between homes in Alabama and the Virgin Islands.
Roy Lee Cooke (born December 25, 1941) is an American who was a founding member of the Big Creek Missile Agency and one of the original Rocket Boys. His character in the Universal Pictures film October Sky was played by William Lee Scott. He is the son of Wiley Clay Cooke(Koch) and Carrie Agostino Cooke(Koch) of Coalwood, in McDowell County, West Virginia.
When Cooke was 13, his father died at the age of 45, after working his entire adult life in the Coalwood mine. His mother then began working in the school cafeteria to support the two of them.
Cooke later attended Big Creek High School. It was there that Cooke and his friends Jimmy "O'Dell" Carroll, Homer Hickam, Jr., Billy Rose, Sherman Siers, and Quentin Wilson formed the Big Creek Missile Agency. Cooke was a member of the football team, too, playing running back. In addition, he was active in a variety of clubs in high school. The thespian club named him best thespian during his senior year at BCHS.
After graduating high school, Cooke began his college career at Concord College in Athens, West Virginia. He later transferred to the University of Maryland where he earned a degree. He is also a graduate of the American Institute of Banking in Washington, D.C.
Now retired from banking after 25 years in that profession, Cooke has been President of Carolina Domestic Coal since 1986. He is the owner of The Cooke Company, a company devoted to bringing new businesses and venture capital into West Virginia. He is developing hotel projects in several different states. His company, The Red Shield, LLC, is the Master Developer of the City of Fairmont, WV.
He maintains a wide range of civic and business interests in the Appalachian area, including support of the West Virginia Access Center for Higher Education. Additionally, he has New Horizons Computer Learning Centers in several states, and started the Prodigy Foundation to support education and jobs in West Virginia. Each year, The Prodigy Foundation awards an outstanding teacher that has overcome great obstacles to be in that profession, The West Virginia School Teacher of the Year, in memory of Frieda Riley, his high school science teacher.
He started the History & Culture Institute of Mining in 2007, and besides the museum, was able to help establish a National Miner's Day. As a result of his grassroot effort, helped to cause the State of West Virginia to create a State Miner's Day in 2006. In 2008, he was appointed to the Board of the Mission West Virginia Foundation.
Cooke has appeared at several colleges and other organizations throughout the country. He has presented keynote speeches at the West Virginia Small Business Administration and the Appalachian College Association. He also regularly speaks at schools and libraries nationwide.
Governors Underwood and Manchin have both honored Mr. Cooke for his work in West Virginia.
Cooke resides in Irmo, South Carolina. However, he divides his time between his businesses.He spends about 90% in West Virginia and 10% in South Carolina.
Jimmy O'Dell Carroll's Biography
Written By: Jimmy O'Dell Carroll
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU AFTER HIGH SCHOOL?
I joined the Air Force the 3rd day of August 1960 and went to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for basic training; then to Denver, CO for a year of electronics training on the new, hot plane; the f-105. Then to Spangdahlem, Germany for three years with TDY trips to Tripoli, and Libia in North Africa. I got out of the Air Force on July 20, 1964 at Mcguire Air Force base in New Jersey. Sherman Siers drove down from CT and picked me and T.G. Futch up and we drove to Coalwood,WV.
WERE YOU EVER MARRIED?
Yes, I was married 12/22/1966 to Jeanne Christian from Coalwood, WV until 12/22/1993.
DO YOU HAVE ANY CHILDREN?
I have two children - Jennifer Ann, born Feb. 25,1972, and she was married and has two beautiful girls, my granddaughters, Lauren Elisabeth and Julia Victoria, who had her 5th birthday recently with dinner and presents in Kingsport, TN. Jennifer graduated from University of Virginia college at Wise, VA with a degree in English /Lit. She now works at property leasing in Johnson City, TN. I have a son Matthew O'Dell, born 03/01/1975, and he has a Biology degree from University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. He conned me out of a ticket and two days after graduation he and a buddy were in Edinbourgh, Scotland working in a pub just down from THE CASTLE and stayed over there for six months - long enough for me to find an excuse to go for three weeks of rambling around Scotland, Orkney Islands and Ireland and England too. Matt had apparently heard enough of my three previous trips to England, Scotland and Ireland to give him a case of the "I need to go see this for myself". Needless to say we had a marvelous time of it all. I even shelled out $500 for the two of us to play 18 holes of golf at Turnberry Course, outside of Ayr, Scotland. Why not, I figured I would never be back there again with my son and have the chance to play on the #3 course in the U.K.
WE KNOW WHAT HOMER'S DREAMS WERE BACK THEN, WHAT WERE YOURS?
Prior to graduating from Big Creek High School, I wanted to be a civil engineer and had been accepted to WVU but - no money - joined the Air Force and it changed my life - for the better. It got me out of the hills and a coal mining future and introduced me to a lot of the world, which was a great education in itself. I still have loads of good friends from the military and in fact I had a reunion at my farm in October for 5 days . A good time was had by all. Now we are in the process of getting together in Lackland, Texas next June.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ROCKET BOY MEMORY?
It would have to be the fun of it all and the friendships that came of it and is still there between us. We just liked each other.
Quentin was born at William Poca, WV (now forgotten, and considered a part of Warriormine, WV), on Nov. 21, 1942 to Eston & Jessie Richardson Wilson. Eston & Jessie had migrated to the coalfields during the Great Depression from subsistence farms on Stoney Creek in Carter Co., Tennessee. Despite demonstrated academic talents, both had ended their formal education early (Eston after 6th grade, Jessie after 8th) due to the hardships which their families suffered during the Depression. If insufficiently educated, they proved very fertile. Eight children were born to the Wilsons, four sons & four daughter. Only six survived to adulthood, of which Quentin was 3rd oldest, and eldest son.
The large family survived on a sufficiency, if not in plentitude, on the miner’s wage despite Eston’s tendency to tipple on weekends. Then in the late ‘50's, Island Creek Coal closed it's #3 Bartley mine, leaving the entire community unemployed. Eston then worked a succession of small operations for lower earnings before being disabled by stoke at age 48, the summer before Quentin began high school at Big Creek. Existence for the entire family became very hard, and savings were soon exhausted. Quentin, as oldest child at home, was responsible for food, fuel, and garden, as well as any and all odd jobs for coulee wages, which were contributed to the family for necessities. All during high school, Quentin worked 20+ hours per week for family support, while endeavoring to earn flawless school marks. Frequently tired, sometimes underfed, and usually sleep-short, it was small wonder that he had little interest in sports or physical education class.
Quentin attended Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia on academic scholarship immediately after graduation from Big Creek, graduating in chemistry. After 1 year as a chemist in the oil industry, he converted to petroleum engineer. After working for a series of major oil companies all over Texas, he settled in Amarillo, Texas, where he has been an independent oilman since 1984.
Quentin married Glenna Easley when a senior at Marshall. They had three daughters, Laura, Jocelyn, and Heather. They divorced after 19 years. He remained single for 5 years, then married Janice Birkholz, a practicing CPA. They founded a family owned real estate development company, which Quentin runs in addition to various oil and gas consulting and promoting activities.
Quentin, along with the other Original Rocket Boys, makes numerous appearances to talk about their boyhood experiences in the BCMA at schools and various other organizations. In August of 1999, Quentin was a guest speaker at the annual Tripoli Rocket Launch (LDRS 18) in Kansas, where along with hundreds of amateur rocket enthusiasts, he helped launch a replica of the "Miss Riley" rocket used in the movie.
Quentin is an experienced public speaker, and is a certified Accredited Toastmaster (ATM) with 25 years in Toastmasters, International.
Quentin, along with the other Rocket Boys, is proud to have been named an honorary inductee of "The National Gallery for America's Young Inventors" in September, 1999. He strongly supports "Partnership for America's Future", which promotes and supports the inventiveness of America's Youth through "The National Gallery for America's Young Inventors"
You can send an email to Quentin at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also visit the Original Rocket Boy's Offical website at: rocketboys.8m.com
Billy Rose, the oldest of six brothers and sisters, enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from Big Creek High School in May of 1960. Billy Rose married Rose Marie Barber of Welch, WV and had one daughter, Sherry Ann. After graduating college in 1968, Billy moved to the east coast where he worked in the defense industry in the suburbs of the cites of Philadelphia, Tampa, and Washington, DC. He later found a job designing electronic components and systems for a manufacture of coal mining equipment in Bluefield, Va., where he still lives today. Billy is currently the Senior Engineer for American Mine Research in Rocky Gap, Virginia.
You may contact Billy at: email@example.com
Sherman Siers became an engineer after attending West Virginia Tech. Then, in the early 1970's, moved into the new world of computers by becoming a Computer Systems Analyst.
After contracting polio as child, Sherman surpassed his physical limitations by becoming a 7-handicap golfer and even more amazingly a catcher in local Softball leagues. In addition, he was a diabetic; requiring insulin shots every day. Sherman never let on that he was any different than the next guy. He had a quick mind, which he used to play Bridge at almost a master's level.
Sherman died in 1976 from a heart attack at the age of 34. He is survived by his wife, Janet, and three children, John (11), Aimee (9) and Barbie (6).
Miss Freida Riley was the inspirational chemistry and physics teacher who helped the Rocket Boys of the Big Creek Missile Agency to become successful. Before teaching at Big Creek, she was a student there, ranking first in her class. She was also first in her class at Concord College where she studied to become a teacher. As a teacher, Miss Riley was dynamic and tough. She held her students to the highest standard. When a student once told her he was doing his best, she summed up her teaching philosophy in two words, "Do better." Miss Riley died in 1969 from Hodgkin's Disease. To the last, she insisted on teaching even when it was necessary for her students to carry her on a stretcher to her classroom.
Jim Hickam, Homer's brother, is a 1963 graduate of Virginia Tech and is a highly successful Roanoke, Virginia high school and college football coach. He is also a retired award-winning body builder. He is married to Betty Jane Laphew, one of those pretty Coalwood girls. Jim and Betty Jane have a daughter, Cheyanne, who has provided them with three grandsons, who bring them great joy and help keep them young. They all still love to vacation in Myrtle Beach.
Homer's mother, Elsie went after her dream and moved full-time to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1975.
Homer's father, Homer Hickam, Sr., continued to live in Coalwood and worked in the mines as a superintendent and consultant until he retired in 1982. He then joined Elsie in Myrtle Beach where they lived happily until he died in 1989 of complications due to black lung disease. Elsie died at 97 in Myrtle Beach in 2009.