During the summer of 1940 Florence Boswell, Governor of the North Central Section of the Ninety Nines, flew to St. Louis. While meeting with the women who were members of NX II (Nixies), the local flying organization, she learned that five of them were licensed pilots. She spoke with those women about joining the Ninety Nines and becoming the nucleus of a new chapter. The five Nixies, Del Scharr, Billy Gallagher, Sally Souttar, Addie Gault and Verna Burke joined the Ninety Nines and became charter members of the East Missouri Chapter when it was formally established on September 19, 1941. The first officers were Chairman Del Scharr, Vice Chairman Billy Gallagher, and Secretary-Treasurer Sally Souttar. Rather than separating from the Nixies, they continued to meet with them but transacted Ninety Nines business separately. This continued association with the Nixies proved rewarding when some of their members earned pilot licenses and doubled the membership in the Chapter with the addition of Beryl Edwards, Mary Raymon, Jeanette Geantil, Pat Ruddy and Laura Sellinger.
WWII greatly curtailed private flying and the Chapter almost dissolved as members were lost to the service. Members in the service included: Pat Ruddy – Army Nurse Corps with the 26th General Hospital in Europe and Africa, Del Scharr – Ferry Command as an original member of the WAFS and later the WASPs, Isabell Madison and Jan Champlin – cadet training in Sweetwater, TX, Dolores Meurer and Margaret Needham – Air Training Command, and Emma Coulter Ware – target towing. Unfortunately, while in the cadet training program, Jan Champlin and her flight instructor lost their lives on a night dual cross-country flight. Although not yet a Chapter member, Amy Laws served in the Navy. After the war, in September 1946, the Chapter formally reorganized with a total membership of 14. In 1949 the Chapter name changed to the Greater St. Louis Chapter and by January 1950, the Chapter had grown to 21 members.
In 1948, the East Missouri Chapter hosted its first North Central Section Meeting at the Chase Hotel. Since then the Greater St. Louis Chapter has hosted Section Meetings in 1950, 1954, 1962, 1976, 1984, 1993, 2004, and 2013. We will host our next Section Meeting in Spring, 2022. In 1982 the North Central Section was host to the Ninety Nines International Conference and the Greater St. Louis Chapter successfully bid to hold the Conference in St. Louis at the Marriott Spanish Pavilion Hotel. Under the leadership of International Conference Committee Co-Chairs Loretta Slavic and Laura Sellinger, our Chapter with the help of all the other Chapters in the North Central Section managed a very successful Conference. Members of the Greater St. Louis Chapter have held leadership positions in the North Central Section: Governor – Amy Laws, Val Johnson and Nelda Lee; Vice Governor – Del Scharr, and Treasurer – Laura Sellinger and Loretta Slavick. Dorothy Wheeler was Governor of the Northwest Section before coming to the Greater St. Louis Chapter. Many of our members have served as committee chairmen at the Section and International levels.
In 1960 Loretta Slavick organized a tour of Europe for women pilots. As guests at seven European Aero Club receptions they had the opportunity to meet women pilots in the countries they visited.
Youth and Community Education
The Chapter launched its participation in youth aviation education in 1947 with a Ninety Nines sponsored essay contest for senior high school students on “How an Air Marker Will Benefit the Community and Aviation”. The prize was a 10-hour flight training course. The Chapter has continued youth-oriented aviation education with many projects through the years. As members of the Aviation Council of Metropolitan St. Louis, we directed the Air Age Education activities in the area from 1946 until the late 1950s. Members of the Chapter have presented Aviation Merit Badge programs for Girl Scouts, American Heritage Girls, and Boy Scouts. In the 1970s our Chapter partnered with Wings of Hope to sponsor Aviation Explorer Scout Post 9499 to which Martha Norman and Barbara Wilper were advisors. Libby Yunger is currently an advisor to Aviation Explorer Post 9032 that is sponsored by EAA Chapter 32 and meets at Boeing. Over the years our members have presented educational programs on flight and career opportunities for women in aviation at many school, scouting, and community events and at Girls in Aviation Day events. Nelda Lee, dressed as a clown with goggles and leather flying helmet, has educated and entertained school children as Plane Jane and Ethyl Eggbeater. Our Chapter members have been at almost every post for the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s Safety and Evaluation Conference (NIFA SAFECON) competitions at both the regional and national levels. For many years Martha Norman was the North Central Section’s NIFA liaison, relaying information from NIFA to the Section and rounding up Section members to serve as SAFECON judges. The School of the Ozarks in Point Lookout MO just south of Branson is called Hard Work U because it charges no tuition but students are required to work 15 hours per week at a campus job. In the late 1960s the school initiated an aviation program and in 1969 opened Point Lookout Airport (now M Graham Clark Downtown Airport). In 1969 our Chapter’s “Fly to Lunch Bunch” visited the School on one of their lunch outings which resulted in the Chapter sort of adopting their start-up aviation program.
For 15 years starting in 2002, Libby Yunger gave slide presentations on women aviators from 1903-present to aviation and community groups. In 2009 she appeared with Tim Ezell on FOX 2 TV News in the Morning to discuss Amelia Earhart’s influence, contributions, and final flight. These presentations began as an adjunct to our Chapter’s traveling library exhibit on women in aviation. Our Chapter also created a very popular exhibit at the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum in 2012 commemorating the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.
Air Racing and Air Marking
The idea to form an organization for women pilots was hatched under the grandstand at the National Air Races in 1929 at the completion of the first women’s transcontinental air race from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland OH. From the beginning air racing was a passion for many Ninety Nines. Many of our members have participated in the AWTAR (All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race) and its successor the Air Race Classic as well as at local cross-country and proficiency races. Before coming to our Chapter, Stephanie Maughan won the 2015 Air Race Classic in both the Collegiate and Overall Categories flying with her best friend. Other Chapter air racers have included Ruth Bohnert, Teresa Camp, Shirley Deitz, Jan Eveans, Deanne Falduto-Drozdz, Esther Grupenhagen, Dorothy Haupt-Spangler, Val Johnson, Debbie Klein, Amy Laws, Nelda Lee, Martha Norman, Jan Pocock, Lynn Russo, Joanne Sabo, and Laura Winklemann-Brooks. For most of our air racers, just finishing seems to be our forte in the long cross-country races, but we were luckier in proficiency events. Jean Lennertson was a three-time winner of the Michigan Small race and twice winner of the Indiana FAIR, while Ruth Lake and Fran Henke were many-time winners of the Sky Lady Derby. Besides racing in the long cross-country races, our Chapter has also womanned the start of the AWTAR and the commemorative race from St. Louis to San Diego in 1970. In 1994 we womanned the start of the 2400-mile Air Race Classic from St Louis to Columbus, OH.
Ninety Nines are also known for air marking. In 1933 Ninety Nine Phoebe Omlie, as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, was put in charge of the National Air Marking Program to help pilots navigate cross-country. Phoebe recruited Ninety Nines to paint the names of airports on their ramps (see the ramp at Washington Airport) and city names and/or the direction and distance to the nearest airport on the top of the tallest structure in each 20 square mile grid block throughout the United States. Compass roses were also painted on airport ramps to allow a pilot to determine the deviation of the plane’s magnetic compass. These air markings were removed during WWII to thwart an enemy air attack but were replaced after the war, a job that was largely taken on by the Ninety Nines Chapters, including our own. Since the advent of radio and GPS navigation, most of the old air marks have disappeared, but the Ninety Nines still paint compass roses. Our Chapter’s most recent compass roses were painted at Greenville IL airport (GRE) in 2010 and at Southern Illinois Airport (MDH) in 2018. The North Central Section Air Marking Traveling Trophy was named in honor of Chapter member Joy Harvey who was Section Air Marking Chairman at the time of her death.
Community Activities and Fundraisers
Over the years our Chapter has sponsored dances, style shows and cultural outings, aviation events such as poker runs, proficiency competitions, pinch hitter seminars, and even an air race to earn money for our educational and philanthropic work. Our golfers Nelda Lee and Gloria Shelby organized and participated in Ninety Nines golf scrambles and tournaments as fund raisers. Perhaps our most ambitious fund-raising project occurred over Memorial Day in 1971. Our Chapter contracted with Leo “Baron” Volkmer to bring his WWII themed air show to Alton Civic Memorial Airport (now St. Louis Regional Airport). The air show featured three WWII aces: the British Royal Air Force ace Peter Townsend, the Japanese Navy Air Force ace Tomotsu Yokoyama, and the German Luftwaffe ace Erich Hartmann, the most successful fighter ace in the history of aerial combat. It began with a 309-mile P51 Mustang tournament from Milwaukee to Alton on May 29. That evening our Chapter hosted a reception and dance at the Planetarium with tickets sold through other aviation organizations and local WWII veteran groups. Our proceeds from the reception were donated to the School of the Ozarks to support their flight program. Baron Volkmer ran the air shows on May 30 and 31 while the Ninety Nines volunteers in their new uniforms (white blouse and blue jumper with the Ninety Nines compass rose logo) organized and womanned the ground events. These shows were successful but not profitable, so to recoup his losses, the Ninety Nines brought Baron Volkmer’s air show back in 1972, but this time to the more accessible Spirit of St. Louis Airport.
The UN General Assembly declared 1975 as International Women’s Year. It was also the 40th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s transpacific solo flight from Honolulu to San Francisco in January 1935. Therefore, on January 11, 1975, at a ceremony attended by many of our Chapter members, Mayor John Poelker of the City of St. Louis signed a resolution proclaiming January 11 through 18 as Women in Aviation Week in honor of women’s “constructive contribution to the industry”.
One evening in the Spring of 1993 Del Scharr and a large group of local Ninety Nines and their guests gathered at the terminal at Spirit of St. Louis Airport to place a bronze sculpture of Amelia Earhart in the lobby next to the sculpture of Charles Lindbergh that had been placed there a few months earlier by the Greater St. Louis Flight Instructors Association. The back story to that event begins around 1962 when Del’s nephew Jack Scharr commissioned local sculptor Don Wiegand to do a bust of Charles Lindbergh. On hearing this, Del told her nephew that he should also commission a bust of Amelia Earhart. The Amelia Earhart sculpture was completed by 1963 and in February of that year Del, her nephew Jack and his wife and sculptor Don Weigand flew to Oklahoma City and in a ceremony at the Ninety Nines headquarters presented a stainless steel casting (#1) of the Amelia Earhart sculpture to the Ninety Nines, and a bronze casting (#2) to Amelia Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey. The stainless steel sculpture is on display at the Ninety Nines Museum of Women Pilots. A bronze bust of Amelia Earhart, perhaps the one that the Ninety Nines placed at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, has most recently been observed in a storefront at Chesterfield Mall where several of Don Wiegand’s works are currently on display.
In 2002 Chapter members Ruth Bohnert, Teresa Camp, Gussie Freese, Delia Greer, Esther Grupenhagen, Jean Murry, and Jan Pocock helped refurbish a 1942 DC-3 as part of the "Rosie the Riveter" crew at the Wings of Hope hangar. The women drilled out rivets, scraped masking tape and old paint, redrilled holes for rivets, stitched, sewed, and recovered the fabric control surfaces, and when they were done Wings of Hope sent the plane back into service bringing supplies to the poor in remote locations.
Member Aviation Achievements and Honors
During WWII Del Scharr was the eighth woman chosen for the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which later became part of the WASPs. Her experiences were published in her 2-volume autobiography, Sisters in the Sky. As an educator she provided the seed money for our Chapter’s Del Scharr Scholarship that provides funds for a college student pursuing a degree in an aviation related field. In February 2014, the Major Adela Riek Scharr – WASP Conference Room was dedicated at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Del’s nephew Jack Scharr were speakers at the dedication ceremony; guests included Chapter members Nelda Lee, Anne Mongiovi, Jean Murry, and Martha Norman.
Nikki Caplan was a pioneer of modern gas and hot air ballooning and over her career earned many awards and honors and had many notable exploits including in 1974 legally piloting a hot air balloon through the legs of the Gateway Arch. In 1983 she set a distance record in a gas balloon category, traveling 843.59 miles from Albuquerque NM to Duncombe IA. In 1982 Nikki was awarded the Montgolfier Diploma, the highest honor bestowed on a balloonist. She was elected to the National Ballooning Hall of Fame in 2014. Her biography, list of achievements and many photos can be found on the Hall of Fame web site.
In the 1970s Sue Mathias flew the Traffic ‘Copter for KMOX radio in St. Louis. Originally the ‘copter was a fixed wing airplane but Sue later got her helicopter license and a real ‘copter to fly. She also covered events such as the Forest Park Balloon Race, but don’t ask her what happened in 1979.
Nelda Lee has a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Auburn University and was the first female engineer hired by McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis in flight test engineering. As a member of the flight test engineering team for the F15 Eagle, she became the first woman to log hours in the F15 during a dual test flight. Among her many awards and honors, Nelda has been inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame and the Women in Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame. She was also a founding member of the Board of Directors of Women in Aviation International and past president of the Whirly Girls, the international organization of woman helicopter pilots Nelda also served as trustee for the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum that is operated by the Ninety Nines in Atchison KS. Her biography is published in American Women of Flight: Pilots and Pioneers by Henry M. Holden.
Dr. Peggy Baty (later Chabrain) was the Associate Vice President and Dean of the Department of Aviation at St. Louis University Parks College. In 1990 she helped found the Women in Aviation International and was its President for 30 years from 1990 until her retirement in 2020.
Wings of Hope is a 501(c))3 organization that refits aircraft and provides aircraft and personnel for humanitarian and medical missions throughout the world. Delia Greer and Jean Murry were long-time volunteers with Wings of Hope in many capacities. While in the Air Force, Delia became the first African American Certified Airborne Nurse. After she retired as a surgical nurse at a local hospital, she became the Chief Flight Nurse for the Wings of Hope Medical Relief and Air Transport (MAT) program that provides free air transportation to medical patients throughout the Midwest. In 2006 Delia was nominated by Wings of Hope and was selected to receive the St. Louis Women of Achievement Humanitarian Award. In 2012 Delia and Jean received the Ninety Nines Award for Humanitarian Service for their work with Wings of Hope.
For over a decade June Shepard has been an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI). ASIs administer, investigate and enforce safety regulations and standards for the production, operation, maintenance and modification of all aircraft. Prior to joining the FAA, June flew the Swearingen Metroliner for Trans World Express and after TWA was sold to American Airlines, she flew the Citation S550 for Graybar Electric. Since joining the FAA she has earned type ratings in the Lear Jet, and Gulfstream 3 but primarily flies Beech King Airs. June is one of our more eclectic pilots, having also taken instruction in hot air balloon, glider and helicopter. Years of flying experience and study paid off for members Rose Mary Boyd and Vivian Waters when they passed the exams and became FAA Designated Pilot Examiners for piston-powered airplane and hot air balloon, respectively.
Another ground breaker was Martha Norman who in 1966 was hired as a photogrammetric cartographer at the Aeronautical Chart and Information Center that later became the Defense Mapping Agency and is now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Her job was to stereographically produce (and later supervise the production of) topological charts such as our aeronautical charts. She also taught photogrammetry, stereoscopy, stereographic instrumentation and matrix algebra in the plant’s Cartography School.
Anne Mongiovi loves to soar. Even though she is only unofficially on the Publicity, and Growth & Promotions committees of Soaring Society of America, she can usually be found manning the SSA booth at EAA AirVenture, the Scott AFB air show, and many local expos. She has also held many leadership positions in the St.Louis Soaring Association. .
The International Forest of Friendship in Atchison KS, the city of Amelia Earhart’s birth, was jointly established in 1976 by the City of Atchison and the Ninety Nines as a living, growing memorial to the world history of aviation and aerospace. The trees represent all 50 states and more than 35 foreign countries. and the plaques in the walkway represent the more than 1500 honorees that have been inducted into the Forest community. Chapter members who have been honored are Peggy Baty, Dorothy Haupt-Spangler, Nelda Lee, Del Scharr, Loretta Slavick and Ethel (Tex) Wickenhauser.
Many of our newer members are still writing their own aviation history. Sherry Rennier is a Captain with American Airlines and Stephanie Maughan is a First Officer with Southwest Airlines. Andrea Martinez appears to be following in Nelda’s footsteps. Since earning her degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Embry Riddle University she was hired as an engineer at Boeing where she aspires someday to become a flight test engineer.
Flight training is expensive and many of our members have successfully competed for scholarships to support their flying or their academic coursework. The following Chapter members have been awarded Amelia Earhart Scholarships: Mary Pat Murphy-Montirubio, Laura Winklemann-Brooks, Sally Siebe, and Melissa Shantz. Our student pilot members who have received Fly Now Awards from the Ninety Nines are Melissa Shantz, Laura Holland, and Andrea Martinez. Our rotary wing pilots who have received flight training scholarships from the Whirly Girls are Sue Mathias, Nelda Lee, Betty Board, and Melissa Shantz. Melissa Shantz and Sarah Scharf have received Santori Memorial Scholarships from the Chicago Area Ninety Nines, and Kate Benhoff has received the Del Scharr Scholarship from our Chapter.
Our Chapter is made up of a mix of pilots that range from student pilots through Air Transport Pilots. We pilot airplanes, balloons, gliders, helicopters, and seaplanes. We hold a wide variety of ratings. The women of the Greater St. Louis Chapter have made continuing contributions to aviation, to education, and to our community. There is little doubt that each member had been proud to be a Ninety Nine.