MEET THE VOLUNTEER: Virginia Basler
On October 14, 3,755 “Rosies” set a new world record for people dressed as Rosie the Riveter gathered in one place—in this case, the EMU Convocation Center in Ypsilanti. The youngest was six months old, the oldest 101. Among all those 4,000 “Rosies” were 57 actual Rosies—women who worked in factories during World War II, assembling armaments. And one of those was one of our volunteers, Virginia Basler, who helped build B-24 Liberators at Willow Run.
Born in Alpena, Virginia moved to Ypsilanti in 1943, when she was 17 years old, specifically to work at Willow Run. She worked on the bomber fuselages, “making holes for Rosie,” as she puts it—holes for the rivets to fit into. On her first day, a male coworker drilled right through her thumb, but she persevered. She lived first in a Willow Run dormitory and then moved into a room in an Ypsilanti home. “If you had a house, you rented out rooms in those days,” she says.
After Willow Run, Virginia enlisted in the Coast Guard. Why that branch of the service? She laughed: “I was reading an article in the paper about the Coast Guard and it said their boot camp was in Key West. I thought that sounded like a fun place to go!” But upon enlisting, she found there would be no palm trees and tropical temperatures for her—she was headed for Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, New York. She decided she wanted to be a cook, so that’s what she signed up for and that’s what she became. It was what she would do for most of the rest of her working life.
Virginia came back to Ypsilanti after the war and went to work, again as a cook, at the Kaiser-Frazer Automotive Company, which, as luck would have it, was housed in the same Willow Run plant where she had worked during the war. When the company went out of business, she did some part-time jobs while raising her children, and then went to work as a cook at Ypsilanti High School and, later, at West Middle School. She retired in 1990.
Virginia has hardly slowed down at all since her “retirement.” She works three days a month at the thrift shop, delivers meals every week for Meals on Wheels, and calls bingo games at the Ypsilanti Senior Center, where she takes exercise classes. She also spends time socializing with other local Rosies, who hold regular gatherings. “I need to find something to do on Fridays,” she says. “Otherwise, I’ll be forced to clean my house!” That’s our Rosie!
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Board of Directors
President June Gordon
Vice President Ann Thomas
Recording Secretary Kalyn Sterzik
Treasurer Nancy Good
Dispersing Treasurer Deborah White
Corresponding Secretary Nancy Hamilton
Scheduling Marlene Barr
Membership Jenean Carter
Social Service Marcia Sylvester
Housekeeping Priscilla Kulback
Building Nancy Yapp
Donations Vivian Phillips
Publicity Pamela Erbe
Telephone/Email Nina Homel
Historian Margo Myers