When Clara “Happy” Sargol started the Arizona chapter of the American Rosie the Riveter Association in 1999, the group had about 20 members.
Their numbers grew to about 85, though as time goes on that number shrinks little by little.
About 30 members regularly attend meetings.
“We’re just conserving our energy,” Furn Baskin said jokingly.
Sargol knows it is more serious than that.
“Due to our ages, our numbers are kind of dwindling,” she said. “We’re an endangered species.”
It is important they share their stories while they can, Sargol said, which is why the Sun City chapter of the ARRA will have an open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum, 10801 W. Oakmont Drive. The chapter’s members will be on hand to answer questions and share their experiences. They all have amazing stories to tell.
Baskin, now 88, was born in Arkansas. When the war started she left home to work in a factory as a powder scooper.
It was her job to fill anti-aircraft shells with gunpowder.
“I did that for about a year when one day the lady next to me had an explosion,” she said. “There was a buildup of powder in the trough below her and a spark set it off. She was standing right next to me, then she went flying against the wall behind us. She had splinters all over her face and her hair was red. That’s when I decided to head home to mom and dad.”
Wilma Rees, 88, is the Sun City chapter’s secretary. She left her home in Nebraska for Seattle to build B-17 airplanes.
“I was a rivet bucker for the tips of the wings,” she said. “I don’t remember being inside the wings but I must have been if I did that job. I guess I blocked it out. It might explain why I’m so claustrophobic now.”
Fran Ellis, the Sun City chapter’s president, is the baby of the group at 83. Ellis, too, worked in Seattle — she worked as a riveter on bulkheads on P-38 airplanes.
“It was fun, we enjoyed it and we all thought we were really something,” she said. “We were happy to be helping out the war effort.”
Sargol, 88, went to comptometer school just out of high school and after graduating, worked for a company in Chicago in its priority department.
“I had to judge who got priority for the screws and bolts,” she said. “The Army, the Navy, the Marines.”
Sargol was also with the United Service Organizations, spending her weekends at Union Station.
These are just some of their stories.
The goal for Saturday’s open house is a simple one: education.
“A lot of what we do is going to schools and speaking about our roles during World War II,” Sargol said. “And you would be amazed at how many people have never heard of Rosie the Riveter. Some of the teachers, even.”
Baskin said she and her fellow ARRA members simply want their stories to live on.
“We feel like people ought to know what women did during World War II, what it was like back home for us.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.