Just before 10 a.m. on Monday, September 4, Opal Nelson climbs out of her van in the parking lot of the Cottage Grove United Methodist Church. She has a spot to fill in its pews every Sunday but today, she has a different job.
At 94, she's one of Cottage Grove's last Rosies.
Rosie the Riveters--approximately six million women who answered the call to join the 12 million women already in the workforce during WWII--are dying. The American Rosie the Riveter Association counts 5,700 among their ranks but according to past president Yvonne Fasold, that number is declining.
"We're losing Rosies every day," she said. "In the last few years we have lost five or six from our Cottage Grove Club."
On Labor Day, Opal walked across the church parking lot to join Doris Graham and Alice Heiney, both donning their Rosie shirts and carrying the stories of working on inspection lines and war bond offices, respectively. The women have gathered to mark their service to the workforce and women in general by ringing the bell 10 times. Across the country, other Rosies will join them.
"That's what's so interesting to me," Nelson said. "Is that it's simultaneous. They'll be ringing the bell at the same time all over the country."
As the bell rang out, breaking through the quiet of a day off on Washington Ave., it served as a call to arms.
"There may be people who served and worked who don't know about the organization and who would join the Rosie association," Nelson said.
The Rosies meet once a month in Springfield with their children--Rosebuds and Rivets--who are eligible to join.
"It's our responsibility," Fasold, whose mother worked during the war as a riveter, said. "It's up to us to keep their legacy alive and let people know their contribution to the war effort and the workforce."
The group visits classrooms and gives lectures as a way to preserve their legacy.
"Our newest Rose Bud didn't know anything about the organization until she read an article in the newspaper and said, 'Hey, my mother worked during the war.' Maybe I can join," Fasold said.
Opal, the smallest Rosie of the bunch, gripped the handles of the bell and rang. All of her weight moving with the effort.
Those interested in joining the American Rosie the Riveter Association can visit rosietheriveter.net or contact Fasold at (541) 343-4223.