Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Ethel Louise Jones Sheffler, 44-W-5. |. June 5, 2018

"I got bit by the (flying) bug. When I got down, there was no way they could keep me on the ground."
        WASP Ethel Louise Jones Sheffler

The youngest of 6 children, Ethel Louise was born on January 20, 1921 to Ralph and Carrie (Auer) Jones.  Growing up on her parents' farm in Heyworth, IL, she spent her time outdoors, doing farm chores and enjoying nature. 

In 1936, Ethel saw an ad in the paper about sightseeing airplane rides given by the Hunter Brothers. She spent $1 on that first flight, and always remembered seeing the fields and corn being detasseled from above. After a single flight, "I got bit by the bug. When I got down, there was no way they could keep me on the ground." 

She worked several jobs to save money for flight lessons and took her 1st lesson on July 23, 1942. When the Women Airforce Service Pilots were formed a year later, she had already logged 173 flight hours.  She applied and was accepted into WASP training, paid her way to Sweetwater, Texas and arrived at Avenger Field, in December of 1943 as a member of the WASP training class of-W-5. After completing seven months of Army Air Force Flight training, Ethel and 71 of her classmates graduated and earned their silver WASP wings.  

Ethel received Army orders to report to Gunter Army Air Field in Gunter Alabama.  There, she flew engineering test, utility, and administrative flights as well as instrument flight instruction until the WASP were disbanded 20 December 1944.    She would log over 500 hours in the next year.  During that time, she would have flown BT-13's, AT-'6's, AT-10's and UC-78's.  

Following her military service, she continued as a flight instructor and charter pilot at airfields in IL, NJ, and TN.  She was a role model for many aspiring pilots, male and female, who continued on as professional as well as recreational pilots. In 1950, she was invited to vacation in Sao Paolo, by friends who were living in Brazil. A blind date led to marriage to Ira Sheffler, and she remained in Brazil for several years. 
Their first daughter, Sue, was born in Brazil. By 1953, the young family had moved to central NJ, where daughters Sandy and Linda were born. 

In the mid-1950s, Ethel became the 7th woman in the world to obtain her helicopter rating and is a charter member of the Whirly-Girls.  Traditional expectations restricted her ability to fly openly, but she still flew secretly. She wrote a piece she called "Homesick Angel" about feeling stranded from her passion, flight. In 1960, she threw off the bonds of tradition and returned to flying full time as a chief instructor and charter pilot while raising her 3 daughters. She also worked at a printing shop to support the family. "She used her skill, passion and free access to planes to teach each daughter to fly - in fact, we were not allowed to get our driver's license until we had our pilot's license." 

In 1972, she returned to the Midwest, based first at the airport in Galesburg IL, followed by a few years in Columbia TN, and finally in Bloomington IL. Upon retiring as a flight instructor at the age of 83, with over 25,600 flight hours, she moved to Appleton WI to be closer to her daughter, Linda. Over her years as a pilot and as an adventurer, she flew to 49 states (all but Hawaii) and traveled to all 7 continents. 


Ethel Louise Jones Sheffler died on June 5, 2018, surrounded by family. "We will miss our humble, strong-willed, independent, curious, nontraditional mom. She raised us surrounded by books, nature and a wide variety of music. As often as she could, she took us on adventures to woods and gardens, historical sites and factories to see how the world worked."  

She was an active Girl Scout leader, 4H leader and volunteered at the local mental health facility. In Appleton, while she was able, she volunteered at the Paper Discovery Museum and Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust. 

Ethel is survived by Sue Sheffler (Rob Meier) and their children Andrew and David Meier and Justine Sheffler, Arlington, MA; Sandy Sheffler (Mike Dooley) and children Joylyn and Alana Cordak, Woodstock, GA; and Linda Sheffler (John Thompson) and children Skylar Thompson (Carrie Berg) and Lauren Thompson of Appleton, WI.

Ethel chose to donate her body to the Medical College of Wisconsin to contribute to the knowledge and skills of doctors. At her request, there will be no public service. 

"A tremendous Thank You, from our mom and her family to the staff at the Heritage and most especially the CBRF for your kindness, care, compassion and friendship to our mom.  Life wasn't always easy, but it was always interesting. May you return to the wide open sky that you love."

______________________Quotes from Ethel's daughtersOriginally published in Appleton Post-Crescent on June 10, 2018Respectfully edited and posted with additional WASP information and photo by Wings Across America.  May God bless this high-flying, inspirational WASP and all of those touched by her passion to serve and to soar.

8 comments:

  1. Just looked at your blog. Although I have a few pictures of her in the WASPs, I've never seen this picture of my mom before. <3

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  2. well if I worked as a flight instructor in Galesburg Illinois she helped me get my flight instructor certificate she was a great great lady flight instructor one thing I remember about the Ethel was she hated to fly instruments

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  3. Yes, she worked at the FBO in Galesburg in the 1970s. I never heard her say she disliked instrument flying - she liked all flying, except when people took unreasonable risks.

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  4. Here’s the text of ‘A Homesick Angel’:

    A Homesick Angel
    “Homesick Angel” is a term in the aviation trade meaning a plane or, in this case, a person who very much wants to get back up in the sky. This particular little angel landed on a farm in the Midwest, the last of six little angels in this particular Jones family. The time was at the beginning of the boom, before the big bust of ’29. She was named Ethel, probably after some relative.
    To this day my mother declares that I was a little angel, though, to be certain, no one but a prejudiced parent would make such an exaggerated statement. Unless, of course, one likes pockets full of smashed worms, dogs eating from the dinner table, and collections of stones scattered among clean clothes in the dresser drawers. But the family’s real claim to fame during these years was being quarantined- all six kids and two adults (poor Mom) for three months running while they had, one after the other, measles and mumps.
    I grew up with all the kid fights, likes and dislikes, and frustrations that kids grow up with. My particular interests were dogs, the out-of-doors, and good music. I attended the Heyworth, Illinois, grade and high schools for the usual number of years, arriving at the age and stage of graduation just at the time that Hitler was getting a bloated head.
    Not liking the farm, I went to town to work, and went through several unexciting jobs. After a time, I got a job in the office at the airport in Decatur, Illinois.There I started to fly. For the uninitiated, at this time the Civil Aeronautics Administration required a minimum of eight hours of instruction with a certified instructor before a student could solo. My first instructor was Bob Snell, a fat, self-satisfied, draft-dodger with a most colorful vocabulary. After 13 painful hours of instruction, Snell told me, with his most colorful vocabulary, that I could never solo. I was hopeless. He’ll never know the good deed he did that day! Then and there, I decided that not only would I solo, but I would get a commercial license as well, which would put me in the ranks of the professionals.
    So I got another instructor with more patience and less vocabulary, and after more dual, I soloed. Then after much more dual and much burning of the midnight oil, I got my private, then my commercial ticket. At this time Jackie Cochran was recruiting girls for her ferry command, and I decided to join.
    I was told to report to Mrs. Somebody on a Certain Day at the Blue Bonnet Hotel in Sweetwater, Texas. Seventy-nine other girls were to report at the same time. After we were all accounted for, we were loaded into covered cattle vans (Texas, you know) and hauled the eleven miles to Avenger Field. The vans were a big joke until we discovered they were to be our sole means of ground transportation for the next eight months.
    Training was fun. There were the usual number of rattlesnakes in the barracks; the usual number of students washed out; there were even a couple of fatal accidents, but on the whole it was fun. I had the good fortune to draw excellent instructors: Mr. Glasnapp for the primary phase, who really taught me cross-wind landings, bless his heart, and who got such a bang out of the way “his girls” had to dress like teddy bears to fly the open-cockpit Stearmans; ever-patient Mr. Smith for basic phase, with his wonderful Texas humor; eager, young Mr. Ryan for the advanced phase.
    Ah, advanced! Cross-countries all over the Southwest, in a sleek singing Six. What could be nicer than popping out of bed at the crack of a beautiful (whether you like Texas or you don’t, you can’t deny their gorgeous sunrises and sunsets) dawn, load up with maps, cushions, clearances and many bars, and hit the wild blue yonder for Tucson or Yuma or Brownsville. That’s living!

    (continued below)

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  5. ("A Homesick Angel" continued)

    Class 4-W-5 graduated in June of 1944. I was assigned to Gunter Field, Alabama, as a utility pilot. My chore there was to give instrument flight instruction to the link operators, most of whom had never been in a plane. The most memorable flights out of Gunter were the sunset flights over the Gulf coast. The normally blue water and white sand were finger-painted with all shades of pink and red by the sun. No-one who has made such a flight would dare be an atheist.
    In December of ’44 things were looking up for the Allies, there was a surplus of pilots and the WASPS were disbanded. Back in Illinois, I did a stint of instructing at Lincoln, then went back to Texas. Civilian flying was getting slack, so I went to work for Pioneer Airlines in Houston, as link operator, and doing instructing for a flight school after hours. Now a link is like an oboe in that it is designed to drive the operator crazy after a certain length of time. But I was saved from this horrible fate by flying the line every few weeks. Flying the line consisted of riding in a little fold-up seat between the pilots and observing their navigation and radio procedures. Of course, they usually let me fly a little illegal time when the weather and passengers were right. This part I liked.
    After a couple of years of this, I began to get the itch in my wings again. One day a pilot- another Jones- from Hiller-copters came into Houston for demonstrations. He took me along on one of the flights. That put the final itch in my wings. Next vacation I hitched a ride to Palo Alto, California, and the Hiller factory. There I went through training and got my rating in two weeks, something of record they told me. On one of my training flights, I rode copilot while my instructor flew Santa Claus into the center of Sacramento. The kids loved it.
    Back on the link job with Pioneer, I decided I’d had enough time on the ground. Since there were no copters flying commercially in Texas, I decided to try my luck in Brazil, where some friends were living. The Brazilian government was happy to have me as a tourist, but they would have none of a foreigner flying around their country, even in a copter. Thanks to some sympathetic Brazilians, I did get some flying in conventional planes, though it was illegal.Since I couldn’t get a flying permit, I decided to do some sightseeing and come back Stateside.
    However, before I could get my bag packed, Shef appeared. He had been sent down to help start a plant for an American outfit. We were both so surprised to meet another eligible American that we got married.
    My most pointed- and I do not use the word lightly- memories of Brazil are the fleas and the garlic. I’m allergic to both. But with much flea powder, disinfectant, and fumigating chemicals, we managed. And since Susan was born there, we do have some nice memories.
    When Shef’s work was finished, he was sent back to Bound Brook, were we have acquired Sandra, Linda, and a house, all in the proper time and order. For the present, kids, house, husband and school use most of my time, though I do manage to get in some instructing on weekends. When the girls are all in school, I plan to get this homesick angel back in the sky again.

    Ethel Sheffler
    February 13, 1958

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  6. Blogger "qqq" - can you let me know if you have the original for Homesick Angel? (We are putting together a WASP exhibit, and I would love to include the original).
    Thank you - Linda, Ethel's daughter

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  7. She was the best flight instructor I had. I got my Private Pilot rating under her. I'll never forget that one time I got a complement from her on a landing so soft that she didn't even feel the plane touch the ground. She was unshakable.

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