Monday, June 26, 2017

Mary Jean Barnes Sturdevant, 44-7 | June 24, 2017

Mary Jean (Barnes) Sturdevant passed away at the age of 95, on June 24, 2017 in Graham, WA. She was a 46 year resident of Spanaway, WA.  

Mary was born September 28, 1921 in Bend, Oregon. She lived quite an interesting and exciting life she was active in her community, serving her country, and devoted to her family.  

Mary was a Tacoma Lariette Drill Team and riding club member from 1968 until she could no longer ride, some 40 years total. She maintained an interest in the group,
 and the Tacoma Unit community arena until she passed. She also belonged to the Back Country Horsemen organization. Mary faithfully attended St. Mary's Episcopal Church of Lakewood for 40 years, until she could no longer drive. Church volunteers maintained contact with her, visiting her monthly.

Mary enjoyed acquiring her education and graduated as Valedictorian at Phoenix High school in 1939. While in school she earned the Golden Eaglet award through the Girl Scouts of America, their highest award and equivalent to that of Eagle Scout.

Mary discovered a love of flying as a young adult. In 1939, she was 1 of 3 women able to enter a civilian pilot program at Southern Oregon University. She earned her ground school certification and pilot's license there. One she graduated, she set up a ground-school program at Medford (Oregon) High School, instructing interested students there, with the Medford Flying Service furnishing the airplanes. Later, she did the same at Eastern Oregon College, La Grand for the War Training Service Program, under the auspices of the Army Air Corps. She then went to Washington State University (Pullman, WA) and was the chief instructor to cadets sent there preparing to be pilots, navigators and bombardiers. She applied to the WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilots) program (along with 25, 000 other women) and was eventually one of 1820 who were accepted into training. She could not leave WSU until they found an instructor to replace her, so her entry into the WASP program was delayed until February 1944.

Entering class 44-W-7, she trained at Sweetwater, Texas. Her class initially consisted of 90 women, all of whom had to have their pilot's licenses already and a base amount of flying experience. Still, only 45 of the 90 were ultimately able to graduate from the rigorous training regimen. She was then stationed at Merced (CA) Army Air Base, Base Operations, flying AT-6s and BT-13s and instructing male pilots who would be sent overseas to fight in WWII. While at Merced, she met Philip A. Sturdevant, where he was also a pilot and instructor. They eventually married, after the War. The WASP program was disbanded in December, 1944, at the end of the War.  The women, including Mary, were left to get home on their own after abrupt termination of the program.

Mary lived the life of an Air Force wife thereafter, moving as her husband's duty assignments required, raising 3 children and moving every few years. At each base she found ways to contribute. She was always active in the local Episcopal Church. She was a military hospital volunteer (known then as Gray Ladies). She was a PTA member, serving as President in several elementary schools her children attended. She was a Brownie and Girl Scout leader. 

In 1971, she enrolled in Clover Park Vocational Technical School and graduated as Legal Secretary. After a short stint working with an attorney in private practice, she was employed by Pierce County Court, from which she retired. Her interest in photography was piqued while at Clover Park, and she took up the hobby in her retirement. 

Mary traveled extensively and was most proud of her visit to Russia, where she met the "Night Witches," Russia's version of the WASP. She used her photography skills to document her may travels, and the friends she shared her trips with.  

Mary maintained life-long interests in horses and dogs. She bred, raised, trained and showed AKC registered german shepherds. She trained other people's dogs, bringing them to show level ratings. Over time she also had a collie, a poodle, a cocker spaniel, and several Border Collie mix dogs, whom she referred to as the Cannardly breed – you "Can Hardly" tell what they were! She was an indefatigable horsewoman who confidently rode Western style, and occasionally English , and was an active precision equestrian drill team member for 40 years, riding for at least 25 of those years. She belonged to the Back Country Horsemen riding group and rode on trail- rides well into her 70s, trailering and tacking her own horses plus hauling her own camping equipment. 

In March 2010, Mary was the honored recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to civilians. In February of 2017, she was interviewed by a film crew working on the documentary "Fly Girls." Her daughter and granddaughter (both pilots) were interviewed at the same time, in order to include a perspective of women in aviation across several decades. A trailer for the film can be viewed at 

Mary is survived by son Jack B. Sturdevant of Glouster, VA and daughters Jean E. Best of Renton, WA and Faith C. (Steve) Jeffrey of Lacey, WA, as well as 8 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren.  

She was preceded in death by her father William D. Barnes, her mother Cornelia Drake (Wilson) Barnes, and her brother W. Donald Barnes.  

Donations may be made to the National WASP-WWII Museum 

National WASP WWII Museum
P. O. Box 456
Sweetwater, TX 79556


respectfully reposted with minor edits for accuracy  from Weeks Funeral Home page
photo - Wings Across America

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