Friday, May 29, 2020

Working on the home front: 'Rosie the Riveter’ shares memories, experiences

Dorothy "Dot" Skolfield, who lives in Windham
with her daughter, enjoys a recent spring day
 in the backyard. Here she is sporting the Boston Post Cane
 she was awarded in the summer of 2019 by the Town of Weld,
 her official residence. Skolfield's father was working for the Boston Post
when the newspaper instituted the award as part of a publicity tactic.
By Lorraine Glowczak

In a recent Letter to the Editor, the American Rosie the Riveter Association reached out to the Sebago Lakes Region community to try to locate women who worked for the war efforts during World War II. The intent was to capture as many stories as possible around the U.S.

“These women have stories of their WWII experiences that are of historical value and perhaps have never been told,” the letter said. “American Rosie the Riveter Association would like to acknowledge these women with a certificate and have their stories placed in our archives."

We, here at the Windham Eagle newspaper office invited anyone in the area to also share their stories with us and one individual responded to that invitation.

“Our ‘Rosie’ is my 97-year-old mother, Dorothy "Dot" Weld Reynolds Skolfield,” Sharon Bickford wrote in an email to The Windham Eagle newspaper. “My mother contributed to the war effort in several ways and she has seen many changes in her years on earth. For her birthday, we are giving her a membership to the American Rosie the Riveter Association to be recognized and have her story a part of their archives.”

Skolfield has lived with her daughter in Windham for the past 10 years. She was born May 14, 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the fourth of five children of Howard Reynolds, a sportswriter and editor for the Boston Post, and to Lottie Reynolds, a nurse. Although living most of her early years in and around the Boston area, she and her family spent summers in Weld. Skolfield worked in both Maine and Massachusetts in her “Rosie the Riveter” role.

“After I graduated from Newtonville [Massachusetts] High School in 1942, I spent that summer with my family in Weld,” Skolfield said. “Everyone wanted to help the war effort in some way and my sister-in-law and I where no different. We both got a job as volunteers scanning the sky with binoculars, watching for aircraft, and identifying them. We had access to a telephone and when we spotted a plane, we would call the central agency. We did this for four hours a day. and her sister-in-law were part of a citizen volunteer program of the Army Air Force Ground Observer Corps. The mission was to fill a gap in the country’s air defenses and security during WWII. There were many observational posts throughout Maine at that time, with Weld being among them. In addition to binoculars and a telephone, volunteers were also equipped with a distance calculator.

Online Maine Encyclopedia describes the role of the corps volunteer in this way:
“When any aircraft was seen, the volunteer would dial the operator and say, ‘aircraft flash [number assigned to post].’ That would identify the post to the ‘filter center’ at Bangor’s Dow Air Force Base, which tracked use of the air space over Maine.”

When the summer 1942 turned into fall and it was time for the family to return to Massachusetts, Skolfield got a job working for Hoods Rubber Company in Watertown helping to make deicers for airplanes. She earned $45 a week.

“I was on the assembly line and we each had our own specific duties,” Skolfield said. “Mine was to insert a small piece of equipment into one area of the wing that would inflate and activate the deicer when it was ready to be used.”

This one seemingly mundane task, however small, was very important. All completed objects were tested before the wing was attached to the plane to check for precision.

“One day, I put my piece in backward,” Skolfield said. “It stopped the whole assembly for many hours until they were able to find and correct the mistake. I was so mortified and embarrassed.”

But despite the one error, Skolfield’s calm and even-keeled demeanor may not just be a genetic character trait but could be a result of the war-time civility and the American effort to work together during difficult times.

“People seemed to trust each other more back then, and everyone worked together,” Skolfield said. “There was a certain love for our Country, and everyone was patriotic. We all had one common goal and that was to cooperate. No one tried to make money off the war, and everyone was willing to give up for the greater good. And yes, there were disagreements, and everyone had their own opinion, but you just listened to what others had to say – and then you went on quietly following your own opinion. My mother would always say ‘sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ You never took things personally because everyone is entitled to their beliefs. Today feels so different. There seems to be family against family and a lot of fighting. It seems to me that today we have had it easy for so long that it is more difficult to adjust when adversity arises.”

Being there for one another was an expected norm during the days of World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Skolfield recalls one way her mother played a role in being there for servicemen in the community.

“My family lived on something similar to a cul-de-sac and the Air Force was using it as a base,” Skolfield said. “On the soldiers’ days off, my mother would invite them for Sunday dinner. Our table was always surrounded with strangers because my mother wanted to give soldiers a home-cooked meal.”

Skolfield eventually moved to Atlantic City, N.J. for a couple of months and worked in sales to be near her sister-in-law and her brother before he left for overseas. She eventually returned to Massachusetts and attended Fisher’s Business College in Boston to obtain a certification as a Foreign Trade Secretary. She admits that it was not something she wanted to do with her life.

“I went to secretarial school at the encouragement of my mother, but I was such a tom-boy,” said Skolfield. “I couldn’t wait to get out of a dress and into jeans. Being a secretary would have been too confining for me.”

Instead, Skolfield held several other positions that fit her personality more appropriately. She opened an Ice Cream Shop in Weld during the summer months and then work in Massachusetts at a dime store and nursing home.  

In 1948, she married Stanley Skolfield of Weld, making Maine her permanent home. She and her new husband had a son, Tom (Rep. Tom Skolfield of House District 112) and daughter, Sharon Bickford.
While raising a family, Skolfield would work a variety of jobs in and around Weld that included pumping gas, working at Mount Blue State Park, working as a Town Treasurer, Tax Collector, Town Clerk pro-temp and was elected as the first female Board of Selectpersons for the Town of Weld.

She acknowledges that although she has seen difficult times being alive during WWII, she has had a very good life.

“My family growing up was loving and supportive and I married a loving and supportive husband,” she said. “I have been incredibly fortunate.”

Her husband passed away 28 years ago. In the summer of 2019, she was awarded the Boston Post Cane by the Town of Weld. Although this is a great privilege to anyone who receives this award, it was extra special for Skolfield.

“My dad worked for the Boston Post when they instituted this award as part of a publicity tactic,” Skolfield said. “So, it was truly an honor to get the Gold-headed Boston Post Cane that my father helped to implement.”


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