Fifty years of giving back to Auburn Engineering

By Lauren Winton

Published: Mar 4, 2021 7:55:00 AM

Peggy and Pete Cerny Peggy and Pete Cerny

From the time he stepped into the country, it seemed almost destined that Pete Cerny, ’69 aerospace engineering, would work on rockets.

“Pete’s dad came to the United States in 1957 to work with Wernher von Braun. He brought the family with him. Pete was 11 at the time and could not speak a word of English,” said Peggy Cerny, ’69 business administration. “My husband was smart and determined. He learned English quickly. He wanted to be an aerospace engineer like his dad.”

And so he was. After graduating with his engineering degree from Auburn, Pete went on to work for the United States government in Space and Missile Defense. His work in Huntsville led him to the “Star Wars program,” as the Strategic Defense Initiative was known, and his dedication to space and defense continued throughout the entirety of his career.

“We lived in Georgia for seven years where he did the same work at Robins Air Force Base,” Peggy said. “Not to brag on him too much, but he received so many accolades and awards throughout his career.”

Though Pete passed away in 2008, his legacy in aerospace engineering lives on at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

“There’s a wall of honor within the center, and Pete has a plaque there,” Peggy said. “He was chosen for giving extraordinary effort to the space and missile program. The award was given posthumously, but Pete knew that it was in the works before he died. It was quite an honor, for both of us.”

Not long after Pete’s passing Peggy received a call from one of his Auburn fraternity brothers, telling her that some of them had established a scholarship in Pete’s name. A lover of Auburn herself, Peggy had already been giving back to her alma mater for years. When she heard about the scholarship, she knew she wanted to contribute.

“Auburn gave us an awful lot in terms of experience, memories and education. I want to make sure young people can get help and have the same opportunities we did,” Peggy said.

Pete and Peggy met on a blind date to an Auburn versus Georgia football game. They got engaged on Samford Lawn with a ring Pete purchased from Ware Jewelers.

“We were very much the Auburn couple,” Peggy said. “I was the first one in my family to go to Auburn – everyone else went to Alabama – and I went to Auburn site unseen. Auburn was a wonderful experience for me, and for Pete, too.”

Their love for Auburn translated into an entire family carrying on the tradition. Their children and grandchildren are Auburn graduates and students. They are, as Peggy likes to say “keeping Auburn in the family.”

The Cernys’ impact extends beyond their immediate family, however. Peggy has been giving to Auburn for 50 years, a lifetime of generosity that has a tremendous impact on students, faculty and staff. The Otto “Pete” Cerny Scholarship supports students in aerospace engineering, helping more young aspiring engineers find a career in rockets and space.

“When we first graduated, we did not have a whole lot, but we did give back to Auburn every year. We looked at whether we would give to the College of Business or the College of Engineering. In the end, we decided to combine our donations to our two colleges and give them to engineering,” said Peggy. “I love Auburn so much, and it has been an honor to give back.”

Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.5519

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