The famous resolve of Rosie the Riveter is still going strong, thanks to the American Rosie the Riveter Association. Throughout the pandemic, a local chapter made sure the women who pitched in during World War II stayed connected in creative and inspiring ways.
Rosie the Riveter is said to be associated with a real woman, Rose Will Monroe, who worked at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with 40,000 other women building B-24 bombers for the U.S. Air Force.
The American Rosie the Riveter Association (ARRA) Michigan’s Willow Run Chapter in Ypsilanti continued to honor the “Rosies,” even during the past year of social isolation. Their efforts were more than a social boost for the women, they became a lifeline.
The iconic World War II image of Rosie the Riveter with the galvanizing “We can do it!” slogan personifies the remarkable contributions millions of women made during the war, stepping into war production jobs to fill in for the men who were fighting overseas. ARRA makes sure the important role they played in answering their country’s call is not forgotten.
Since the Rosies couldn’t participate in any of their usual in-person events because of the pandemic, the chapter brainstormed on ways to reach out to the women. “We had to come up with other things we could do to encourage the ladies to feel like they’re still loved and cared for,” said Nancy J. Zajac, ARRA Michigan’s director.
They started a statewide ARRA cards and letters program where families could request greeting cards for special occasions for their Rosie or WWII veteran, and mailed or dropped off monthly care packages with cookies, chocolates, and rose tea. Through a Sisterhood of the Traveling Crafts program, the group sent boxes of craft supplies to ARRA members, who then created handmade Valentine’s cards to send to the Rosies. They also organized several socially distant walk-and-wave birthday celebrations where “Rosebuds,” daughters of Rosies, serenaded and cheered a Rosie or WWII veteran from the sidewalk.
The Willow Run Chapter of Michigan Rosies enjoying some time together. (courtesy American Rosie the Riveter Association)
The group recently surprised Almyra Rourke, who started working at the Willow Run factory in 1942, for her 100th birthday with a walk-and-wave event. Rosebuds performed a special drill team chant and led Rourke’s neighborhood in singing “Happy Birthday” to her. She was overjoyed.
To keep the women connected with each other during a difficult year, the group got the women’s permission to share their phone numbers. Most of them are over 95 and have lost their husbands and best friends. It meant a lot to them to talk to each other. “It’s like having a new best friend,” Zajac said. “They became like Rosie sisters to each other.”
Zajac and her team also called the women to check in on them. The outreach spurred family members to say things to her like, “It’s keeping mom going.” Some family members said their mothers were fading and seemed ready to give up. But the renewed ways to connect with their Rosie sisters kept them going.
The group was able to recently host an in-person potluck at a local church. “They were so happy to see each other,” Zajac said. Almost all the women who attended had received both COVID-19 vaccinations, so they felt comfortable getting together. Their families drove them to the event because none of the women drive anymore. One Rosie brought eight family members because she wanted them all to see what ARRA was doing. “It was phenomenal,” Zajac said.
Everyone practiced social distancing, wore masks, and board members served the plates from the church kitchen. They were not segregated by families because, Zajac said, “The Rosies like to sit together.”
“They’re a lot tougher than most people might realize,” she said. “Their bodies are frail, but their spirit is so strong.”