WEIRTON - During World War II, when many of the nation's men had to leave their jobs in the nation's heavy industries and other settings, thousands of brave women stepped up to keep those businesses going and contribute to the war effort.
Dubbed "Rosie the Riveters" after a song written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, these women often found themselves in jobs where women previously never would have been considered, producing munitions, parts for military equipment and other war supplies.
On July 21, the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center brought members of the community together - including 10 of those former "Rosies" - to help pay tribute to their work and to record their experiences for future generations.
PAYING?TRIBUTE —Ten former ‘Rosies’ were among those who gathered at the Weirton Museum July 21, hearing about projects throughout West Virginia to pay tribute to the women who worked in the mills during World War II, and sharing some of their own experiences. Some of those in attendance included Kathleen Starr, Anita Varney, Mary Banketas, Carrie Wildman, Gloria Kotur, Irene Boby, Margaret Rojak, Edna Brown and Thelma Grossen.
"We're here today to honor these lovely ladies," Museum President Dennis Jones said, indicating the women in the front row, each of whom had been given roses.
According to event chair Pam Makricosta, the "Rosies" in attendance performed a variety of jobs in plants throughout the Tri-State Area, with some holding jobs as welders, truck drivers, crane operators, shell plant inspectors, working in the defense department, bullet line or shipping departments.
Thais Blatnik, who also spent many years serving in the West Virginia Legislature as well as working as the city editor of The Weirton Daily Times, was among the "Rosies" in attendance and spoke briefly about her time at Weirton Steel, where she worked as an expeditor in the Shell Plant.
"The shells were almost as big as we were," Blatnik said, noting it was not a glamorous job, with the women often working long hours and going home for only a few hours before returning to the production line.
Kathleen Starr, who worked at the Curtis Wright plant in Beaver, Pa., was a welder who worked on propellers. She said she later learned they would be used in the construction of the B-17 Flying Fortress.
Gloria Kotur, who worked as a crane operator at Follansbee Steel told of some of the jobs she and her fellow "Rosies" did in that plant, including manufacturing armor plate for tanks.
"It was an exciting two years," Kotur said.
Other "Rosies" in attendance included Anita Varney, who drove a truck at Weirton Steel; Mary Banketas, who worked in the defense department in Weirton; Carrie Wildman, who worked in the oil cellar in Weirton; Irene Boby, who was in Weirton's Shell plant; Margaret Rojak, who was at Weirton Steel; Edna Brown and Thelma Grossen, who also worked at Curtis Wright.
Anne Montague of Thanks Plain and Simple also was on hand, discussing some of her own efforts to catalog the stories of "Rosies" across the state and about the many other efforts to recognize their work.
"The stories are critically important," Montague said.
Montague said there are 20 projects in West Virginia to pay tribute to "Rosies," including a recently opened park in St. Albans, W.Va., and work to have a state building in Huntington also named in their honor.
"We're holding up West Virginia as the model for the country," Montague said.
Montague encouraged those in attendance to find a way for Weirton to record as many of these stories as possible while also finding its own project to pay tribute to local "Rosies."
Montague took some time during the afternoon to meet with many of the "Rosies" and chronicle their stories. Many also have shared their experiences with the Weirton museum, which will make copies of their stories available for public viewing in the future.
Mayor George Kondik and USW Local President Mark Glyptis also were on hand to thank the women for their work.
(Howell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)