2017-11-23 / Front Page

‘Rosie’ Gathering Brings Memories

Geraldine Buell Among Those Celebrated for Working Role in World War II
By Stephanie Fortino


Geraldine Buell of Pinetta, Florida (center) worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti during World War II. As an “Original Rosie the Riveter,” she returned to Ypsilanti in October to join a gathering of women dressed as the iconic figure. She was joined by her daughters Nancy Miller of Sault Ste. Marie (left) and Becky Bishop of Pinetta (right) and her granddaughter, Meagan Mongene of Grand Rapids (not pictured). (Photograph provided by Becky Bishop) Geraldine Buell of Pinetta, Florida (center) worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti during World War II. As an “Original Rosie the Riveter,” she returned to Ypsilanti in October to join a gathering of women dressed as the iconic figure. She was joined by her daughters Nancy Miller of Sault Ste. Marie (left) and Becky Bishop of Pinetta (right) and her granddaughter, Meagan Mongene of Grand Rapids (not pictured). (Photograph provided by Becky Bishop) During World War II, thousands of women throughout the country flocked to manufacturing plants to build machinery and help the war effort. Rosie the Riveter with her bandana, rolled up sleeves, and catchphrase “We can do it!” emblazoned posters and advertisements to encourage women to go to work. She has become a figure of female empowerment, and a recent gathering of women dressed as her in Ypsilanti was record-breaking.


At left: Geraldine (nee Wyers) Buell (left) and her daughter, Becky Bishop, during a gathering of women dressed as Rosie the Riveter in Ypsilanti, where Mrs. Buell worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant during World War II. “It was amazing,” Ms. Bishop said of the event, as women approached her mother, wanting photographs and autographs. At left: Geraldine (nee Wyers) Buell (left) and her daughter, Becky Bishop, during a gathering of women dressed as Rosie the Riveter in Ypsilanti, where Mrs. Buell worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant during World War II. “It was amazing,” Ms. Bishop said of the event, as women approached her mother, wanting photographs and autographs. Among the attendees was St. Ignace native Geraldine (nee Wyers) Buell of Pinetta, Florida, who recently celebrated her 92nd birthday. She was an original Rosie the Riveter who worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti during the 1940s.

Mrs. Buell was joined by her daughters, Becky Bishop of Pinetta and Nancy Miller of Sault Ste. Marie, and granddaughter, Meagan Mongene of Grand Rapids.

In 1943, Geraldine Wyers and her sister, Susie, left St. Ignace for Ypsilanti to work in the Willow Run plant. Their father, David Wyers, had worked at the plant as an electrician and encouraged his daughters to get jobs there, too. Being older, Susie was hired first. But on her 18th birthday in November of 1943, Geraldine was hired, too, and she started building B- 24 Liberator Bomber aircrafts. She worked there until about 1946, near the end of the war.


At left: St. Ignace native Geraldine (nee Wyers) Buell of Pinetta, Florida, at about age 19, during the time she worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti during World War II. (Photographs provided by Becky Bishop) At left: St. Ignace native Geraldine (nee Wyers) Buell of Pinetta, Florida, at about age 19, during the time she worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti during World War II. (Photographs provided by Becky Bishop) “It made her feel proud,” said her daughter, Ms. Bishop. “She was doing her part for the war effort. That made her feel really proud. She loved working there. She made lots of friends there. My mother’s always been a hard worker all her life.”

Later in life, Mrs. Buell would share stories of the plant with her children. Ms. Bishop said her mother worked on building the wings of the bombers, which spanned 110 feet when the planes were finished. The job required two people at the time, Ms. Bishop said, but the man her mother worked with would often take breaks to smoke cigarettes.

“She’d always say, ‘He was a smoker,’ in a disgusted way,” her daughter recalls.

During his frequent smoking breaks, Mrs. Buell would have to wait for him to return, and she’d often get in trouble from her bosses, who would ask why she wasn’t working. Eventually, she found a way to do her job alone so she wouldn’t be reprimanded, and increased efficiency, which her bosses admired.

“We’d say, ‘They all must have hated you mom,’” Ms. Bishop said.

While working at the Willow Run plant, Mrs. Buell and her sister lived in a boarding house with several other women. They rode public transportation to work every day, Ms. Bishop said, until they made friends with someone who drove a car.

Among the other women at the boarding house was Doris Buell, who attended college in Ypsilanti. Eventually, Geraldine would meet her friend’s brother, Ray Buell, at the family farm, and the two would marry, spending their winters in Florida as avid beekeepers.

The Rosie the Riveter gathering was held October 14. Mrs. Buell was one of 57 original Rosies who attended. In all, 3,755 women from 22 states and Ontario gathered at the Convocation Center at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. The oldest participant was 101 years old and the youngest was just six weeks old. The participants had to be dressed just right to qualify, wearing blue jeans, red socks, black shoes, and red bandanas with white polka dots.

During the Rosie the Riveter gathering, Mrs. Buell was interviewed for the National Archives.

For Ms. Bishop, the experience of taking her mother to the gathering was touching and memorable.

“It was amazing,” she said. “We hadn’t even gotten 10 feet from the car when people starting asking if she was an original Rosie. ‘Can I shake her hand, can she pose for pictures, can I have her autograph?’ It was amazing.”

The gathering reclaimed Yankee Air Museum’s Guinness World Record for the most Rosie the Riveters gathered in a single place, breaking the record by more than 1,500 people. The Yankee Air Museum has purchased the old Willow Run Bomber Plant and is working to renovate it for a new museum.

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