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A Century of Stories: Oak Ridge calutron girl turning 100 years old

Mona Beckner helped adjust levels and maintain uranium during the Manhattan Project. She turns 100 on Tuesday, with advice to be yourself and do the right things.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One of the last few Oak Ridge calutron girls, Mona Beckner, will soon be celebrating a century of life. She is 99 years old, turning 100 on January 18.

The East Tennessee native has a life worthy of history books. She is still finding time to fill in the story of her life. If life was a book bound together with memories, Beckner would fill hers with 100 pages, for a century of life.

She actually wrote a book about her life and family years ago, complete with a table of contents, pictures and 160 pages filled with stories.

Beckner said she doesn't know the secret to a long life, but knows she's still here for a reason.

"The Lord is just leaving me here for something He wants me to do," Beckner said. "I never dreamed that I would live this long."

The self-taught gardener, author and poet stays busy. She has a scrapbook ready for a 100-year-old party filled with photos of her flowers, garden and poems.

She's written over 200 poems in her lifetime about anything and everything. She loves to give them away to people who need a pick-me-up.

"I started writing poems when I was 80 years old," Beckner said.

Her great-niece Trina Hughes knows how rich Beckner's life chapters have been.

"It's really inspirational that you can keep learning new things and developing new hobbies as you age and it's just cool to be a part of that legacy," Hughes said.

There's history woven through Beckner's story. As as a calutron girl in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, she turned dials and knobs to help regulate uranium levels and create the atomic bomb.

Credit: WBIR
Oak Ridge workers operate the calutron to enrich uranium during the Manhattan Project.

"They told us don't say anything about what you're doing," Beckner said. "I wondered what I was doing."

She did the job to help with the war effort during World War II. Her husband was in the service, stationed in Germany.

"I felt that I needed to do something to help the boys," Beckner said.

Now, the woman originally from Rogersville is looking back on her life with some storied advice for others.

"I think just be yourself and try to do the right things and go by the doctor's orders," Beckner said.

She'll keep filling her book with pages until she is called home with her husband and friends.

"My wish is that I could just go on to be with them in heaven," Beckner said. "That would be wonderful."

Her story will live on for centuries to come.

Beckner and her family will celebrate her birthday on Tuesday. She says there will be cake, punch and a whole lot of love at the party.