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Mary Factory: Apollo 11 team member celebrates 105 years

Jan. 20—Some people who've lived to be 105 might consider the Apollo 11 moon landing as one of the most impressive things they've seen in their lifetime.

Seeing Commander Neil Armstrong and Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin walk on the lunar surface following the July 20, 1969 moon landing of Apollo 11 is something many people will never forget.

But 105-year-old McAlester resident Mary Factory can say she helped make it happen — and she's been officially honored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for her contributions to the Apollo 11 project.

It's one of the many things that Factory has accomplished in her century-plus of living.

She celebrated her 105th birthday on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, with her family planning to host another, larger celebration on Saturday.

Factory, who still lives at home, said she now has a new theme since marking another birthday.

"I'm 105 and still alive," she quipped.

One of Factory's most treasured belongings is a framed award from NASA which states:

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administrations presents the Apollo Achievement Award to M.M. Factory"

It goes on to state:

"In appreciation of dedicated service to the nation as a member of the team which advanced the nation's capabilities in aeronautics and space and demonstrated them in many outstanding accomplishments culminating in Apollo 11's successful achievement in man's first landing on the moon July 20, 1969."

"Signed in Washington D.C. by T.O. Paine Administrator, NASA."

Factory also has proclamations from the city of McAlester, the state of Texas and a number of groups and organizations hanging on the walls of her house.

Factory wasn't born in McAlester, but she's lived here long enough to consider it home.

"i've been here since 1940," she said. "I've raised seven children — four girls and three boys."

Although she'd previously held jobs doing things such as cleaning and cooking, Factory landed a job on the assembly line at the Naval Ammunition Plant, as the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant was known at the time.

She eventually went to work at the McAlester aeronautics plant that was then known as North American Rockwell, then later became Boeing, and was more recently known as Spirit Aerosystems.

When she started at the facility known as North American and then Boeing, she worked as an electronics assembler.

She became so skilled that she was selected to solder the chipboards that went to the moon on the Apollo 11 spacecraft.

"She had a very steady hand" said Karen Salmond, one of Factory's daughters. When a request initially went out for someone who could handle the challenging soldering required on parts for the Apollo 11 project, Factory said Bill Webber, a supervisor at the plant at the time, said "Hold it! I've got a girl who can do that."

That girl was none other than Mary Factory.

Salmond said her mother soldered the gold chips that went into Apollo 11.

Factory is still proud of her work today.

"I feel so good about it, because I did everything people asked me to do," she said.

Factory retired after working at the aeronautics plant from 1965-1974, but she's held a variety of jobs in her lifetime.

She was born Mary Matilda Johnson on January 17, 1919 in Blocker, north of McAlester to Melvina and Jess Johnson.

Factory is now the only surviving child among her siblings.

She graduated from Vernon High School in 1940 and married John Lewis Factory, of Krebs.

Together they had seven children. They include Robert Factory, Cynthia Davis, Karen Salmond, Patricia Adams, and the late Mary Watkins, Harold Factory and Toni Factory.

Mary Factory has been a member of Mount Triumph Baptist Church in McAlester for 75 years.

"I've known her since I first moved to McAlester," said Loise Washington, who is the first lady at Mount Triumph, where her husband, Anthony Washington, is minister.

She's been a part of my life since 1977," Loise Washington said.

Factory is officially known as the Mother of Mount Triumph Church.

"She's special," Washington said.

Factory recalled working as a sort of Rosie the Riveter at the Naval Ammunition Depot during World War II.

"During World War II, everybody was working to help get the boys ammunition, to the boys fighting," she said. "McAlester always said they could get it done."

Why did Factory come to McAlester in the first place? Before she moved to McAlester, she'd been living in Wilburton.

"I came here to find a job," Factory said.

She said she found her first job in McAlester cooking for people.

"At that time, it was real hard working for 25 cents an hour," she said.

Her culinary skills eventually landed her a job offer at the McAlester Country Club, but when she found the oven she was expected to use was literally on the floor," she drew the line.

She ended up getting an oven at a more normal level.

These days, Factory likes to keep busy around her house.

"She's very active and loves reading," Salmond said during a recent visit with her mother and a niece, Alena Hurt. Factory also loves traveling and staying abreast of current events.

Factory also loves music.

"We play jazz music every day," Salmond said. "She likes the Isley Brothers for rhythm and blues and she likes B.B. King for the blues." She's also a fan of Eric Clapton and Robert Johnson, which is a story for another day.

Factory loves getting together to talk with friends and family, while looking back on her remarkable life.

"The amazing things I've done," she said.