Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault renames its airport in honor of WASP, Elizabeth Wall Strohfus March 4, 2017

Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, circa 1943, at Avenger Field. (Photo from family archives.)

Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, circa 1943, at Avenger Field. (Photo from family archives.)

ELIZABETH WALL STROHFUS traveled the country for nearly 30 years sharing her story of flying fighters and bombers for the U.S. military during World War II.

She served as a parade grand marshal, participated in panel discussions, talked at schools, visited museums, gave countless interviews. But not until now has she been permanently honored and recognized in her hometown of Faribault. This week the City Council approved a resolution renaming the municipal airport as The Faribault Municipal Airport—Liz Wall Strohfus Field. That resolution will be forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration for final approval.

What an honor for a woman who faced many challenges (simply for being a woman) before and after becoming a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot. She will be the first WASP to have an airport named after her.

That’s quite an accomplishment for Strohfus, who convinced a local banker to lend her $100 to join The Sky Club at the Faribault airport. The then 22-year-old used her bike as collateral and subsequently proved to the “women don’t fly” banker that he was wrong. She could fly. And fly she did, training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, with the first class of WASPs to earn their wings. Strohfus went on to train infantry gunners for battle, teach instrument flying to male cadets and ferry B-17 and AT-6 warbirds around the country.

But when the war ended, the WASPS received no recognition for their service to country. Eventually Strohfus, after retiring as an air traffic controller in the late 1980s, began efforts to correct that. She traveled the country sharing WASP stories in her signature down-to-earth storytelling style. She successfully lobbied for the WASPs to be recognized as active military duty and for burial honors at Arlington National Cemetery. This strong and determined pilot also received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A book about Elizabeth Strohfus written by her son Patrick Roberts. He accompanied her on speaking engagements around the country.

A book about Elizabeth Strohfus written by her son Patrick Roberts. He accompanied her on speaking engagements around the country.

Yet, despite all the accolades, all the efforts, Liz Stohfus valued one thing above all. “Her favorite thing to do was to encourage kids,” son Art Roberts revealed at the City Council meeting. His mother repeated that in the many interviews she gave, telling youth that, “The sky is not the limit.” They could, like her, do anything.

Elizabeth “Betty” Strohfus Wall died on March 6, 2016, at the age of 96. Although she did not live long enough to see her hometown airport named after her, her legacy will live on in Faribault. In addition to new signage naming Liz Wall Strohfus Field, renowned local woodcarver Ivan Whillock is creating a woodcarving to be placed inside the airport. And Roberts will be donating items belonging to his mother.

It’s a wonderful thing my community, led by the American Association of University Women—Faribault Branch, is doing in honor of Strohfus. She embodies a strong American woman who always believed she could fly.

FYI: To view an interview with Liz Strohfus, check out Faribault Community Television and its 1855—Faribault History documentary series produced by local high school students Logan Ledman and Samuel Temple. This is top-quality professional. Click here.

Of additional interest is this story from the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Click here.

Click here to read a story about how Strohfus and other WASPs were honored at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, via a theatrical production.

Learn more about that play, “Censored on Final Approach” by Phylis Ravel, by clicking here. Perhaps a Faribault-based theatre company or the History Theatre in St. Paul could consider performing that play.

Finally, click here to learn more about the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas. What an honor this would be to Strohfus’ memory to bring the museum’s traveling exhibit, “The WASP: Untold Story, a Photographic Exhibit,” to Faribault.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


19 Responses to “Faribault renames its airport in honor of WASP, Elizabeth Wall Strohfus”

  1. Janelle Parry Says:

    Dear Audrey,what an inspiring lady! I had not heard of her. Like the women calculators at NASA to the Navajo men that spoke the code that helped us win the war and taking of Saipan, these are heroic stories we never heard growing up and are such a great part of our history.
    Thank you for bringing up topics that give insight and inspiration and sometimes just an enjoyable thought to mull over.
    Enjoy our wonderful weekend weather gift!

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    I will be sharing this post with my seventeen-year-old niece, Emily, who flies both helicopters and planes, who is hoping for a career in aeronautics and aviation. She’s always been interested in discovering stories about women pilots, both historically and of today’s times. I was surprised recently, on a trip to an old hangar in SW Oklahoma where a vintage war plane is stored, to learn how active women were in the aircraft industry during WWII. The fella who now owns the plane spoke of his mom and many other women in the area who helped to build and mechanic some of these historic planes.

    • Thank you for sharing this story with your niece. There’s a story Liz told about speaking at a school and encouraging a young woman who was interested in flying. I believe that may be in the video interview I linked to in this post. Good for your niece.

      I hope someone is documenting the stories of that fella in southwest Oklahoma.

      • Littlesundog Says:

        I got the feeling he was just an old fella who had a passion for the war planes and history. The old hangar was a photographic wonder – and of course I did not have my good camera with me. 😦

      • Oh, Lori, how I understand your disappointment in not having your “good camera” with you. Anyone who has a passion for anything is a great inspiration.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    Consider that it was usually a WASP who flew aircraft straight from the factory and imagine how often the airplane “needed a little work” before being released to service. In the early years of the war, most planes needed a lot of work.

  4. Margaret Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Last year, I saw “Censored on Final Approach” in Milwaukee. It was a powerful play. I’m delighted to learn that my hometown had it’s own WASP. Wish I had known her.

  5. Sue Ready Says:

    Love the backstory and the posthumous honor Liz Strohfus received for her flying recognition.

  6. I believe on my husband’s side their is a female family member that flew during WWII. I will have to ask F-I-LCraves more about it and share your post with him. I think he has this book too. This is so COOL!!!

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Wow what an interesting story.

  8. GP Cox Says:

    Outstanding!! It is sad it has not been done earlier!

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