Friday, June 11, 2010

WASP Irene McConihay Leahy, 44-W-6

WASP Irene McConihay Leahy of Pelican Bay,  Daytona Beach, Florida passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, March 29, 2010.

This notification marks the passing of another beautiful WASP, one  whom I was never privileged to meet, but whose life and service to our country was a priceless gift to every American.  For her gift, we are all grateful.


Irene McConihay Leahy was born on March 2, 1918 in Charleston, West Virginia to John and Irene McConihay. She learned to fly in a seaplane on the Kanawha River.  Because the school was next to a bridge, Irene learned to fly under the bridge, both for landings and take offs.  After earning her private pilot's license, she kept flying and applied for the WASP' flying training program.  

She received notification that she must have a personal interview with an official of the WASP organization before she could be accepted into the program.    After driving all night for an 8am appointment, Irene and 2 other female pilots were interviewed at Lockbourne AFB in Ohio.  (She reported 'drinking carrot juice' all night, so that they would all pass the eye test.)  After completing all the other prerequisites for admission, they were all  accepted into the training program.

Once she was notified that she had been accepted, Irene paid her way to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, where she raised her right hand, took the military oath and, along with 135 other young women pilots, became a trainee in WASP class 44-W-6.  Over the next seven months,   she trained in  PT-17's, BT-13's, and the AT-6 North American "Texan", at the same time taking ground school courses,  which included learning to 'fly' the Link trainer.    On August 4, 1944,  she and 71 other young women pilots  graduated and received their silver WASP wings.

Irene's  Army Air Force orders sent her to Shaw AFB, Sumter, South Carolina to the 2142nd AFBU (Air Force Base Unit).  Shaw AFB was a basic (BT-13) modification center, where the WASP flew as engineering test pilots, ferry pilots and as instrument instructors.

After the WASP were disbanded in December of 1944, Irene never flew as a pilot again.  She began a career in secretarial and administrative work that she continued until her retirement.

In 1947 she met and married David Leahy, the love of her life.   She dedicated 30 years as an Executive Secretary with the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, in Washington D.C.

She and her husband moved to the Daytona Beach area from their home in Silver Springs, MD, in 1985, where, as members of the Pelican Bay Country Club,  Irene enjoyed playing bridge and was an avid golfer, playing in many golf tournaments in the area.

On April 1, 2010, a  memorial service was held at the Daytona Chapel of the Lohman Funeral Home, followed by interment at Daytona Memorial Park.

Irene leaves behind her only survivor--her devoted husband of 63 years, David E. Leahy.

To Irene's husband, David:  'Our prayers for God's comfort.'

God bless you all,

Respectfully submitted by nancy parrish
(Parts of this post are taken from a short online notice of Irene's death, "On Final Approach" by WASP Byrd Howell Granger,  and "Out of the Blue and Into History" by WASP Betty Turner.)

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

WASP Lela Louder Harding, 43-W-7

WASP Lela Louder Harding passed away on May 4, 2010, simply and quietly, after loosing a long battle with cancer.  There was no official obituary.  However we will remember Lela for the determined lady she was.  Lela Harding was a WASP, and, once a WASP, always a WASP. 

On March 10, 2010, even though she was very, very sick,  Lela  made the trip from her home in Oklahoma, City to Washington, DC and was able to attend the WASP Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony with her family.  They took her to the US Capitol in a limo.

Lela's  friend, WASP Betty Riddle, hadn't heard from her and tried to call.  When she discovered the phone had been disconnected, she knew something was wrong. 

I had talked with Lela on several occasions, trying to set up an interview so we could  digitally record her history.  Circumstances always seemed to prevent really getting to know this special WASP, and now, I am filling in the blank pages with words from books.  Thankfully, Lela wrote a few paragraphs in WASP Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History," and was featured in Mary Ann Verges'  "On Silver Wings." 

Respectfully, I submit the following:

Lela Louder was born on July 26, 1920 in Cisco, Texas to a West Texas cattleman and his wife.  While she was attending West Texas State College in Canyon, she enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program and, over her mother's objections, "sweet-talked her daddy" into paying for the advanced training.

Lela graduated from college in May of 1941, got a job as a music teacher near her home and, using her salary, bought part interest in an airplane.   Not long afterward, she applied for a position with the United States Navy, and was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi,  teaching Naval cadets instrument flying in the Link trainer.   While at Corpus, Lela heard about the WASP training program and, after her two roommates were accepted, she finally submitted an application and was accepted for the training program.  She arrived at Avenger Field as a member of class 43-7 and graduated on November 13, 1943.

Lela was assigned to Williams Army Air Base, where she flew as an engineering test pilot, checking out repaired aircraft.  Eventually, she was transferred to the Ferry Command at Love Field, and ferried At-6's and Cubs, and was later transferred to Lubbock, where she flew AT-10's.

After the WASP were deactivated on Dec. 20, 1944, Lela flew surplus PT-19's from Vernon, Texas to Wickenburg, Arizona and eventually was hired by American Airlines as a stewardess.

In 1946, she married Jack Harding.    Preceded in death by her husband, Jack and son, John, Lela is survived by son Ben, daughter Jane, two stepdaughters and many grandchildren.

For more on WASP Lela Harding, read "On Silver Wings" by Marianne Verges.

WASP Elizabeth Stavrum Lux, 43-W-8

I never had the honor of meeting WASP Elizabeth Lux, however I was able to correspond with her by email over the last few years.   I was saddened, as I know many of you WASP will be, when notified that she had passed away on June 3.

I respectfully offer the following, edited from WASP Betty Turner's "Out of the Blue and Into History"


Elizabeth Stavrum Lux was born in Superior, Wisconsin on May 24, 1922. After moving to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, eventually the depression caused the family to move to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where she graduated, with honors, from a local high school.

Elizabeth attended Oshkosh State Teachers College and then the University of Madison. Because she had promised her parents she would graduate from college, she waited until after graduation to enter WASP training. , on July 5, 1943 as a member of class 43-W-8. After graduation, Elizabeth was assigned to the Training Command as an engineering test pilot at Napier Field, Dothan, Alabama.

After the WASP were disbanded, in March of 1945 Elizabeth returned to Napier where she worked as a Link instructor until Napier was deactivated. In February of 1946, she married Captain Frank O. Lux and became an Air Force wife. The young couple went from El Paso, Texas to Camp Lee, Virginia to Salt Lake City, Utah. When Frank was assigned to Korea, Elizabeth eventually followed, moving to Japan in November, 1947.

In June, 1948, first daughter, Frances, was born, followed by 2 more daughters and 2 sons.

After loosing her husband in 1969, Elizabeth moved to Annapolis, MD and joined the Fort Meade Flying Club. She learned to sail, golf and enrolled in a program at the University of Maryland for a degree in interior design, continuing her education with courses in art and photography.

She spent the later years of her life near her children in San Diego, where she continued courses in education and joined the public health club. She died peacefully in her sleep at home in Carlsbad, California, on June 3, 2010. Elizabeth is survived by daughters Frances, Christine, and Elizabeth, and sons Stephen and Michael.

A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, June 19, at 2:30 p.m. at Pilgrim's Progress United Church of Christ (Congregationalist), located at 2020 Chestnut Avenue, in Carlsbad, CA 92008, Tel. (760)729-6311.