Two WASPs remembered

October 22, 2011

Grace Clark Fender

WASP Marjorie Ellfeldt Rees, an extremely accomplished lady who made a positive impact in the state of Kansas, died Sept. 27, 2011.
She was born August 1, 1921, in Kansas City, Mo., and spent most of her life in that area, residing in Johnson County for the last 50 years. Marjorie was an only child, and she graduated from Southwest High School and the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where she also received her MA and Ph.D. in Education Psychology. 
After earning her undergraduate degree, Marjorie worked briefly as a social worker before being accepted for pilot training in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1943. 
She served for 18 months as a test pilot, ferry pilot, and staff pilot until the WASP program was disbanded at the end of 1944. Considered civilians at the time, it was not until 1977 that the WASP were given retroactive veteran status. In 2010, the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., which Marjorie attended. 
Marjorie married another Air Force pilot, 1st Lt. William F. Rees. Following his discharge, the couple settled in the Kansas City area, except for several years in Colorado where Marjorie studied at the University of Denver.  
Marjorie was school psychologist at the Barstow School during the 60s and staff psychologist at the Florence Crittenden Home for several years. During this period she was also self- employed as a private learning consultant. For many years she was a community volunteer and activist, serving as an office holding member of the Johnson County Commission on Aging, the Foundation on Aging, the Silver-haired Legislature and others too numerous to mention. 
She founded and developed the Senior Leadership Program, the College Re- entry Women Scholarship Awards (an AAUW project), the OWL Women of Worth awards (WOW), and the Senior Advocates network, a coalition of senior organizations. She also initiated and was a major sponsor of “The Music of Our Lives,” a musical production starring talented senior performers. 
She originated and funded the first traditional ballroom dancing program for children in inner city schools, followed by a program in a private school for learning disabled students. Marjorie also funded professional dancing instruction for a non-profit musical theater group of special needs young adults. 
Among many awards, she received the Leadership in Aging Award from the Johnson County Commission on Aging, the Outstanding Leadership Award from the Senior Leadership Council, a Humanitarian Award from the Volunteer Center of Johnson County, the Hall of Fame Award for Community Service from Shepard’s Center of Shawnee Mission, the WOW (Women of Worth) award from OWL, and the Excellence in Community Service Award from the National Society of DAR. 
The Kansas City Star as a SHEroe also selected Marjorie during Women’s History Month in 2001. Sponsored by the Northeast Kansas Chapter of 99’s, she was inducted into the Forest of Friendship that honors those who have made significant contributions to aviation. 
In her youth, Marjorie studied classical ballet, tap and jazz, and she returned to dancing in her later years, performing for 12 years with “The Classics,” a musical variety show. Most recently she took up ballroom dancing, performing with her instructors in her 80s. At the age of 85, she entered her first competition, competing in the Heart of America Ballroom Championship Competitions. She competed three years, performing a variety of Latin and swing numbers and always achieving 1st place in each entry. 
A Celebration of Life Service was held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at the Leawood South Country Club, Prairie Village, Kan.
WASP Grace Clark Fender, 91, of Amarillo,  an extraordinary woman, who was a trailblazer for female military aviators, died Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011.
Grace was born in Wichita Falls, Texas on Aug. 13, 1920. In her sophomore year of college, she was accepted into the Civilian Pilot Training Program and received her private pilot’s license in 1940. She graduated from Texas Woman’s University with a business degree in 1942. Grace continued to fly while working as a dispatcher at the Wichita Falls Municipal Airport.
When she heard about Jacqueline Cochran’s Women’s Army Air Corps pilot program, she applied and became one of only 1,074, out of 25,000 applicants, to complete the program in one of the first groups of women to fly military aircraft. After being assigned to the Ferry Command, she was based in Romulus, Mich., and flew trainers, fighters and bombers to and from factories and air bases on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada.
After World War II, she worked for American Airlines as a ticket agent until she married naval aviator, Charles Fender. Grace moved to Amarillo in 2004.

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