Thursday, May 13, 2010

WASP Suzanne Delano Parish, 44-W-6

'As I acquired each new flight rating, I would wire Jacqueline Cochran, 
"Do you need me now?"  I wanted so badly to be a part of that group and to serve the war effort to the best of my abilities. I figured if I could just keep exceeding the requirements  for entry, my age would be overlooked.'  Suzanne DeLano Parish, WASP

The sad news came over the phone just a few hours ago.  A reporter in Michigan called to say that  WASP Sue Parish passed away in her California home yesterday.  She was 87.

Suzanne Parish, a lifelong Kalamazoo, Michigan resident, who was co-founder and vice chairwoman of the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, better known as the Air Zoo, and a member of the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, had been in failing health, said her son Will Parish.

“Our mother was a woman whom I and all my siblings admired for living a life of many passions,” he said.

“She was an avid pilot, loving to perform loops and barrel rolls and fly-overs at air shows around the country. She was an accomplished equestrian who competed very successfully in many local horse shows for years.

“She loved acting in local theaters and was quite well known for portraying her characters vividly and with great creativity,” he said.

"She will always be an inspiration to us.”

Suzanne Upjohn Delano was born in New York City, New York in 1922.  Granddaughter of W.E. Upjohn, founder of Kalamazoo's Upjohn Co, Sue spent her early childhood in France, returning to Kalamazoo in 1929.  

Her passion in her early teens was horses, and Sue had planned to attend Cornell and become a veterinarian.  She was a gifted horsewoman but a fall in 1941 and a fractured ankle derailed her plans.  As Sue put it, "I was restless, getting on my mother's nerves, hobbling around the house on crutches, so she suggested I take flying lessons."  

She took her first lessons from Irving Woodhams, who carried a pilot's license signed by Orville Wright.  "I loved it so much that flying became my passion." 

When America entered World War II and the WASP program first started, Sue was in a hurry to join.  She wanted to fly for her country, but she wasn't old enough.   Every rejection was met with more determination to continue flying and another letter to WASP Director, Jacqueline Cochran.  By the time she was old enough to apply for the training program, Sue had a commercial license, instrument rating, instructor's rating and ten times as many hours as required. When she turned 21,  She was accepted as a member of class 44-6.  She  arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, and survived seven months of Army Air Force flight training in the hot, windy, west Texas summer,  flying the PT-17's, BT-13's and AT-6's.  She completing the exact same training as the male AAF cadets and graduated on August 4, 1944.

After earning her silver WASP wings, Sue was assigned to Army Air Force Instrument Instruction School in Bryan, Texas, as a test pilot.  She flew with returning combat pilots who needed instrument flying and flight tested the repaired planes before the male pilots were allowed to fly them.  

After the WASP were disbanded, Dec. 20, 1944, Sue wrote to every aviation company and airline in search of job as pilot. She even lobbied her  uncle, John Gilmore, who was then President of the Upjohn Company.  Her uncle John  was not yet ready to hire a 'female' pilot.

In 1945, Sue married Preston "Pete" Parish.  Eventually, the couple had five children: Barbie Parish, Katie Anne Miller, Will Parish, Pres Parish, and Dave Parish.  When Pete decided to purchase half interest in a single-engine 35C Bonanza, they both began flying again, and began collecting an armada of aviation history that would eventually evolve into the cornerstone of the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.  The Parish's co-founded the Air Zoo in 1977. Sue's pink P-40, which she flew at many air shows for over a quarter of a century, hangs from the ceiling at the main entrance to the Air Zoo. 

Sue was a board member of the Michigan Space Center in Jackson, the Civic Auditorium, the P-40 Warhawk Pilots Association, Holderness School, the Ninety-Nines, Nazareth College, and was inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame and the EAA Warbirds of America Hall of Fame.  Her last accolade was presented to all the WASP on March 10, 2010: the Congressional Gold Medal, for their pioneering, patriotic service to our nation.

She is survived by her 5 children and 14 grandchildren.

Sue represented a very special kind of pioneering pilot -- she didn't really enjoy talking about flying, she loved FLYING.  She was a gentle, kind and insatiably curious woman, with a giant sized smile that lit up every room she ever entered.  Sue was a lady -- a fearless flyer -- a pioneer -- a WASP. 

It was such a joy to see her in Washington DC -- on March 10, 2010, to receive her Congressional Gold medal replica.  She was beaming from the inside out. We met Sue and Norm Carter in the center of Emancipation Hall. They both lobbied for the Fly Girls Exhibit to travel to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.  They encouraged Museum Director, Bob Ellis to travel to DC and see the exhibit, which he did.  Sue's passion for educating and inspiring young people about aviation has been contagious.  Because of Sue, the  Fly Girls traveling WASP exhibit will open at the Air Zoo at the end of May. We are so sad that she will not be able to see it, but also grateful that she was able to see it at the Women's Memorial and honored to be able to share the exhibit in such an extraordinary place-- which now serves as a living tribute to Sue Parish's passion for flying and for education.


Obituary in the Kalamazoo News

Sue's pink P-40

Article on Sue, published in 1999

History of the Air Zoo and Sue's legacy and love of aviation.


  1. Thank you for your service to America. YOU ARE OUR HEROS!!! God bless you; rest in peace.

    WAC Chapter 97, Hernando

  2. I flew wing with Sue at the 1980 Oskosh....she and Pete took us to dinner that night and we swapped many stories. I saw her many times at different airshows we both participated in. I can still see her doing aileron rolls in the P-40 when she would pass the stands at the Merced air show......
    I felt fortunate to again see her at the Memorial....we swapped a few airshow stories....she then grabbed my hand and thanked me for stopping to talk......her eyes still sparkled, and we shared a moment......

    Mike McCrae

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. She will be in my prayers. What a fine lady. I'm so glad she got to go to Washington for the ceremony.


  5. She was a towering figure in her endeavors and a trailblazer for female pilots. God Bless and stay strong.

    J. Snapp
    son of WASP Helen Snapp

  6. What a gem she was. Indeed a pioneer to the very definition...God Bless her & her whole family.

    Nicole Malachowski

  7. This is one of the brave women that was stationed at Bryan Army Airforce Base now known as Riverside Campus for Texas A&M. I had the privilege to do research on her and the other brave ladies stationed there during World War II as part of my graduate studies. I wanted to extend my sympathies to her family, and say thank you for your service. May you rest in peace and know that you will never be forgotten.
    Elisa Lazo

  8. We are all poorer for her loss.

    Teri Springer

  9. I had the privilege & honor of knowing Susie over 30 years. She was such a wonderful lady who always smiled & unless you knew her family background, you would have never known about her being a very wealthy lady. Susie loved to sit & talk about everything that was going on in my life,not hers & I found it remarkable how she always remembered where we left off. I will always think of her in that bright pink flightsuit, cowgirl hat covered in flowers & her pink P-40 which I enjoyed watching her fly at our airshows. I am so glad she was able to travel to Washington recently where along with all the other WASP, they finally received the well deserved & long overdue recognition for their part in the War. Godspeed Susie till we meet again - we were the lucky ones that shared your life. I'm sure you're already up there teaching God how to do an aileron roll!!
    Cheryl Essex

  10. Love U Pink Airplane Lady!!!! :-)

  11. Sue is flying again. God bless her, she will be missed.

  12. A page in history has turned, valuable in a time of war, despensible in the peace that followed, Valuable and indespensible to her family in her life that followed. Though I never met this WASP, I know that she was a woman of fortitude and determination. What lessons our children could have learned from her and other WASPs, if they just weren't in a hurry, and wanted everything with no investment in their family or this crumbling nation.
    May peace be with the Family, for she has surely gone home.
    Kindest and deepest Regards,
    Gary Lewis aka gary1954 WIX member

  13. Dear Aunt Su: you are and forever will be the one woman whom my mom, Grace Holmes, considers her best friend. That will always be. To me, you will always be a role model of strength, fun, kindness and humility. I wish so much I could be there with you and your family to celebrate your incarnation. God speed, and enjoy your flight, I know you will. Abundant love and peace to you and your family. I miss you all. Beth Holmes Gaar

  14. For more information on the Air Zoo and our amazing co-founders: