Pasadenan Shirley Virginia Bellemeur, a real-life “Rosie the Riveter,” was recently honored for her valiant work during World War II.
Born in Massachusetts in 1923, Bellemeur worked at the Women’s Auxiliary of the U.S. Navy where she got planes back into the skies to fight again from 1944 to 1946.
Because of her contributions, fighter pilots were back in action much faster, defeating the Nazis and ending the war.
Last Wednesday, the 99-year-old received a 2023 Congressional Leadership of the Year Award and a Congressional Certificate of Recognition for her war contributions.
“I’m basically an introvert, so recognition is overwhelming,” Bellemeur told Pasadena Now. “At the time I was providing a service and never expected anything more to come from it. But this has been nice.”
When the war was over, Bellemeur moved to Pasadena to start a family. She has three children.
She attended Pacific Oaks College, where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and worked for many years as a Preschool Director, first at Hastings Ranch Nursery School and then the Caltech Children’s Center, where she retired in the early 90’s.
Bellemeur, who now resides at Pasadena Meadows Nursing Home, believes her contributions during the war “opened people’s eyes to see women are useful outside of the home.”
Leah Snell, Bellemeur’s granddaughter, couldn’t agree more.
Snell believes Bellemeur’s experiences during World War II gave her confidence to do the things she did later on in life.
“She was a little bit ahead of her time in terms of being a woman through the fifties and sixties when she went back to school later in life and graduated with a master’s degree from Pacific Oaks at a time when a lot of women didn’t do that,” said Snell.
“She wasn’t a stay-at-home housewife. She worked, she divorced a husband, she just got out and did things. And I think it’s probably in big part because she had confidence from her time in the Navy that she could be self-sufficient,” Snell added.
Snell said the recognition received by her grandmother will surely impact future generations of their family.
“I’m very happy for her. I think that women in World War II were a significant contribution to the country, and it’s nice that whether it’s now or back then or in the future, that their efforts are recognized,” she added.
Congresswoman Judy Chu, who personally presented the award to Bellemeur, said it was a privilege to be able to honor a real life “Rosie the Riveter.”
“I never did think I would actually get to meet a ‘Rosie the Riveter’,” said Chu. “She is certainly deserving of it. And her stories about what it was like to put rivets into airplanes was absolutely fascinating. It took us back into a time when women really stepped up to the plate and entered the factories and shipyards to do the work that men had done.”
Bellemeur would not have received the award if it weren’t for Dr. Kristen Eddy, a staff clinical psychologist at Executive Mental Health, who wrote a letter to Chu which led to the 99-year-old gaining the recognition.
For Eddy, Bellemeur, whom she considers a “historic gem” just like other nonagenarians, is worthy of recognition because of her efforts during the war, which not only helped fighter pilots but also changed how women are viewed in the society.
“I was just so astounded by the lengths that she went and her dedication to our country and the war effort and her commitment,” said Eddy. “She just has to know how grateful millions of women are to her.”
For her many experiences as a “Rosie the Riveter” and in life, Bellemeur, who will turn 100 on December 5, said confidently women can do anything a man can do.
“Without women, there wouldn’t be any men,” she said.
Bellemeur has this to say to women who want to make an impact in the world today:
“If you want to do something, do it. You only have one life – go for it!”