Wednesday, June 9, 2010

WASP Dorothy Dodd Eppstein, 44-W-1

Our journey to meet Dorothy Eppstein began in 1999, when  we sent her a short letter requesting her permission to come to her home and digitally record her history for our project, 'Wings Across America'.  She replied 'whole heartedly' that she believed it was important to educate young people about the overlooked history of the WASP.   So, even though she had been sick, she agreed to an interview at her home in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Our first interview in Kalamazoo was in July, 2001 with Dorothy's long time best friend, WASP Doris Nathan.  They had been in the same class, stationed at the same base, and had both moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan after the WASP were disbanded.  They truly were life-long friends.   When we arrived at Doris's home, she told us Dorothy had been hospitalized, but she still wanted to talk to us.   

I called Dorothy and she insisted we come to her hospital room the next day.  She had just had surgery, so  I know she was not  completely comfortable, but we went.  The first thing I did was to promise Dorothy not to videotape her-- only to record the audio, which I did.  I then asked to photograph her, promising I would NOT show the sheets or the hospital bed, which I did, as you can see from the wonderful picture.  Then  I stood on one side of her bed, mom stood on the other.

Rather than gently guiding Dorothy through her life, as mom usually does in her interviews, she allowed Dorothy to 'just talk'.  Dorothy talked about what was on her heart, what was important to her, and why.  What a blessing for us both.    What an incredible lady!

Dorothy survived that hospital stay and a few more.  Over the last few months, she was able to travel with her family to Washington, DC to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.  She was also at the opening of our WASP Fly Girls Exhibit at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo just a few weeks ago-- May 28th.

I've posted the video from the Kalamazoo News and their story on her, which really captures the determined optimistic spirit of this unusually gifted WASP.  What a legacy she leaves. I am so proud to have met her!

Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.  
Respectfully submitted by Nancy Parrish

The following,  reposted from the Kalamazoo online news.  I post it here because newspapers tend to take down articles after some time has passed.  All of the wonderful information on the WASP needs to be online permanently.  Because of Dorothy and all these incredible WASP, Wings Across America is determined to make sure that happens.
WASP Dorothy Dodd (Eppstein) and WASP Doris Burmester Nathan

KALAMAZOO — Throughout her life, Dorothy Eppstein fostered an independence and sense of adventure that led her to work in research labs of The Upjohn Co., build a Frank Lloyd Wright house and fly U.S. military aircraft in World War II as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.

Eppstein, 92, died Monday from complications after falling Friday in the parking structure of her Kalamazoo apartment building, said Maggie Eppstein, a daughter.

Dorothy Eppstein was one of the three women who were still living in the Kalamazoo area who were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the Congress of the United States* in March for their service during the war.

She was joined by Doris Nathan and Suzanne D. Parish, one of the founders of the Kalamazoo Air Zoo. Parish died May 14.

After receiving the medal, the highest civilian award accorded by Congress, Maggie Eppstein said her mother wore her WASP uniform around town for a week — to the beauty parlor, the theater and the bridge club.

“She was so excited,” Maggie Eppstein said. “It meant a whole lot.”

In WASP,  Eppstein served as a ferry and a test pilot and was one of 1,074* female pilots to complete the training. More than 25,000 volunteers applied. About 300 pilots are still alive.

Eppstein was born on March 1, 1918 in Lansing, and survived the Spanish flu pandemic when she was six moths old. After earning a chemistry degree from Michigan State University, she became a research secretary at The Upjohn Co. in Kalamazoo, before volunteering for WASP in 1943.

Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP): Dorothy Dodd Eppstein

But Maggie Eppstein said her mother would say her time with WASP was less important than the 20 years she worked as a substance-abuse counselor at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Battle Creek.

After retiring from the VA, she wrote a book on her counseling philosophy called “Is Living Killing You?”

Daughter Betsy Eppstein said she spent most of Tuesday looking through some 20 photo albums her mother compiled over the years.

“She reinvented herself so many times in so many disconnected things,” Betsy Eppstein said.

Dorothy Eppstein was a teacher, did community theater work, wrote plays, earned degrees in counseling, psychology, and social work, and, late in her life, played in Texas Hold ‘em poker tournaments.

“She was always curious about things,” Betsy Eppstein said. “She believed she could do anything she wanted to do.”

In the 1950s, Dorothy and her husband, Sam, built a Frank Lloyd Wright house near Galesburg, and told the famous architect that the kitchen needed to be bigger.

The couple built the house themselves, from pouring the blocks of concrete to finishing the woodwork.

Eppstein was politically active during the anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s, and wrote many letters to the editor on her views. She attended many political rallies and saw Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“She lived a full life and stayed independent,” Maggie Eppstein said. “She had an independent spirit that would never be kept down, long before it was customary in women.”

In addition to her daughters Betsy and Maggie, Dorothy Eppstein is survived by daughters Laurel Eppstein
and Debby Eppstein, son Jonathan Eppstein, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the Peoples’ Church, Unitarian Universalist, 1758 N. 10th St., where Eppstein was a member.

Contact Fritz Klug at or 269-388-8553. 

*edited for accuracy


  1. Nancy, thank you for posting this. There is one typo in the article done by the Gazette that we would appreciate your correcting -- please change "Elizabeth Eppstein" to "Laurel Eppstein" -- they inadvertently listed my sister Betsy twice and left Laurie off the list of children.

    It's been really overwhelming this week, with radio and TV interviews and such -- Mom was a real local celebrity -- and she would have loved all the attention.

    Our family is profoundly saddened by her passing, but we are warmed by all the caring support shown to us by everyone. And Mom does truly live on in us.

  2. My condolences to the Eppstein family. My mother, Mary Koth McCabe, was in Dorothy's and Doris' class of 44-1. They got together in various class reunions after raising their kids, and they sure didn't forget how to have fun.