Swedesburg resident is proud to be a ‘Rosie the Riveter’
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
National Rosie the Riveter Day was celebrated Tuesday across the United States.
Say what? Never heard of it?
Well, Louise Unkrich of Swedesburg has. In fact, she went to the National Rosie the Riveter Convention (along with Louise Woepking of Columbus Junction) last year in Phoenix, Ariz., and will be going to the 2013 national gathering June 14-15 in Detroit, Mich.
The group has over 4,000 members. So what is it?
American Rosie the Riverter Association is a patriotic/non-profit organization whose purpose is to recognize and preserve the history and legacy of working women during WWII. The organization was founded in 1998 by Dr. Frances Carter of Birmingham, Ala.
Thousands of women worked on the home front during WWII to support the war effort as riveters, welders, electricians, inspectors in plants, sewing clothing and parachutes for the military, ordinance workers, rolling bandages and clerical. There were other jobs, too, such as volunteer workers collecting scrap metals.
Unkrich, then Louise Tolander, graduated in 1943 from Olds High School. The summer after graduation, she read a newspaper story about the American Technical School offering drafting. She loved to draw and design, so she signed up for a four-week session and received a certificate in aircraft sheet metal training.
During her training at ATS, her class restored an old German plane which gave the class excellent experience.
Following the class, Unkrich and several of her classmates traveled to the Glenn L. Martin Airplane Plant south of Omaha, Neb. She worked as a riveter and a bucker on the B-29, which was called the “Superfortress.”
“There was a lot of fear and anxiety during those times of war,” Unkrich reflects, “but we had a job to do and we worked hard to support our troops. Everybody was working somewhere during those times.”
It wasn’t all work, though, as Unkrich was the catcher on the plant softball team, appropriately named the “Bomberettes.”
Unrich, 88, worked at the plant from July 1943 to October 1944 before returning to Swedesburg.
She still has warm memories of her experience. “It is hard to believe that I was a young lady a year out of high school working in those cities (Des Moines and Omaha) making war planes. There was such a sense of community and American pride during those times because all of us had the same mission and purpose to win the war and return our loved ones home safely.”
Her high school sweetheart — Clarence Unkrich — was an ensign in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Ft. Pierce, Fla., for amphibious training. Following four months in Florida, he was going to be stationed in Rhode Island. Before leaving for Rhode Island, he asked if he could go home to get married, and the request was granted. The couple was married Oct. 15, 1944. They went to Rhode Island for three months before she returned to Iowa and worked on the farm with her father, Harold Tolander, and father-in-law, Harold Unkrich. Both were instrumental in getting the couple started in farming.
Clarence returned home safely in March 1946, much to the relief of his wife. “Those were very difficult times for young brides because we missed our husbands so much, and there always was a fear that they would not return home,” she said. “Working on the farm for much of my childhood and working as a riveter really prepared me for the farming life.”
The couple had three children — Patricia, Stan and Julia. Patricia and Julia are “rosebuds” in the American Rosie the Riveter Association, the term given to daughters of association members.
Clarence died in 1999, but her son, Stan, and grandsons, Brendan and Tyson, continue farming. She has six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
A former Iowa State Fair “Iowan of the Day,” Unkrich says starting the Swedish American Museum in Swedesburg in 1991 is one of her proudest accomplishments. She still is the museum director.
But she is equally proud of being a Rosie the Riveter. “Decades ago, I traveled to Des Moines to become a Rosie the Riveter and serve my country, naïve and scared, not knowing what the future would hold. I am so proud to be a Rosie the Riveter.”
Any woman, or a descendant of a woman who worked during WWII, is eligible to join the Rosie the Riveter Association. For more information, call 1-888-557-6742, or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.