EVERETT — Helen Mary Vaudrin never thought she would see the planes she worked on in her early 20s in a museum collection one day. But six months after her 100th birthday, she got that chance.
She worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, between 1942 and 1945 in a segregated Goodyear factory in Akron, Ohio, putting together the planes that were used during World War II. Her role helped inspired the famous “Rosie the Riveter” campaign, to recruit women workers to the industrial labor force. Before that, Vaudrin worked at the Ravenna Arsenal in Ohio, which manufactured gun powder and fuses.
Vaudrin visited the restoration center at the Museum of Flight in Everett on Wednesday to see a Goodyear F2G-1 Super Corsair — the same model she helped build during the war.
“We were just doing our job like everyone else in the war,” said the Everett resident.
It was there on the factory floor where she met her husband, who was her supervisor. Vaudrin was joined Wednesday by three of her seven children and her grandson.
The gathering was a belated birthday celebration for Vaudrin, who turned 100 in December, but could not travel due to the pandemic. The family had been waiting to see this specific model, which she worked on but had never seen fully put together, other than in photos.
The Goodyear F2G-1 Super Corsair was used primarily to chase kamikaze attack planes during WWII. The wings fold upward to conserve space on carriers. Only 10 were built, according to Austin Ballard, the lead technician at the Museum of Flight’s restoration center. Only two remain.
Although Vaudrin is now 100, she remains sharp and only recently started using a walker, according to her eldest daughter, Barbara Stefanov. Before the pandemic, Vaudrin used to play bridge up to four times a week. But the isolation of lockdown has been tough on her and her memory has started to fade, Stefanov said.
Talking to her mother about the factory helps jog her memory.
Earlier this week, Vaudrin recalled to her daughter about how when the war ended, the women — who were crucial to the war effort — lost their jobs because the men had returned home. But they had a taste of what work could be, Stefanov said her mother told her. “That’s the last time a woman is going to be in the kitchen. We’re going out into the workforce.”