Missy Jones and I traveled to Fort Worth this past week to visit with Jerelene Childers McQuerry, a totally fascinating woman of 92 years. We were specifically interested in the WWII years and the details that surrounded Jerri’s work during those years. Of course, as usual, I discovered that people are never made of only one chapter. They are, however, sometimes molded into the person they eventually become. My suspicion is that this is the case with Jerelene McQuerry.
“I was born July 10, 1923, to Wyle Carl Childers and Bessie Alma Rosco Childers. My parents lived in the oil boomtown of Ranger, Texas at the time. My grandfather, Will Childers, my uncle, William “Bill” Childers, and my father all worked in the oil field.”
Jerelene attended school at Briar Grove, Hasse, and Blanket before graduating from Comanche High School. And then, Jerri met a young soldier named Burney Alford McQuerry, who was stationed at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas. The couple married on December 20, 1939.
“In May of 1941, I moved to Fort Worth, Texas with my husband and baby girl after Burney was discharged from the army.”
And then a short seven months later came the events that changed forever the lives of those who lived them…the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war. Obviously, as the men were shipped overseas, it was the women left behind who had to pick up the slack.
Jerelene, young wife and mother, went to aircraft school for a six-week training course, expecting to be what today we call a Rosie the Riveter. She did not, however, become a Rosie. Instead, she went to work in the electrical department of the Consolidated Aircraft Company, normally referred to as simply “the bomber plant.”
“I was one of the first twelve women hired to work in the electrical department. We made all of the jigs, cut the electrical wire, numbered it, and tied it together with wax coated string for all of the B24 bombers. I wired the instrument panels for the planes,” she told me proudly.
Although I did not say it, I must admit that I smiled to myself as I realized the irony of it all. In a day when women were not always thought smart enough to walk in a man’s world, there we were. Fighting men….flying and dropping bombs…and completely dependent upon the competence of the woman who wired the plane!
Jerri worked the night shift, six nights a week, and her husband worked days. For the young woman, just getting to and from work was an ordeal in itself.
“I would walk to the bus stop in the evening and take a city bus down to the courthouse. From there, everyone going out to the plant would load onto a “cattle car” bus that had been outfitted for us. There were no seats, just straps to hold to as we made our way to the plant. I would return to the bus stop about 2:30 or 3:00 each morning and then walk the rest of the way home.” Not something that could be done safely in any city today!
There was nothing to do but bring their baby girl to Comanche so that she could stay with her grandmother during the week. Luckily, Burney had an old friend who owned a gas station. In a day when gas was rationed and most would not have been able to make the long trip to Comanche, he and Jerri had access to enough gas to allow them to fly (as fast as a 1940s vehicle could fly) to Comanche at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings to see their daughter.
“Because Burney had to be at work early Monday morning, we would have to turn around and come right back. Of course, people make that trip all the time today, but it was different in the early 40s.”
The McQuerrys continued like this for the duration of the war, with Jerri leaving the plant in 1945. Now, my question is whether or not it was her years at the bomber plant that sent Jerelene McQuerry down the career path of the rest of her life or whether it was something that was already inside her that sent her to the plant in the first place. Regardless of the answer, what came after the war is equally amazing to me; however, first, I must not forget to tell you that during the years when Jerelene Childers McQuerry was working nights, she was also attending business school by day!
“In 1945, I began working with three land developers on the south side of Fort Worth. I built the houses (hired the crews and oversaw every single aspect of the building), sold the houses, took all of the loan applications, and processed them through FHA as VA loans. I supervised the houses, apartments, and small businesses for the company until 2008.”
In the middle of a career that was quite simply a career where women did not walk in the 1940s, Jerri did something else…in 1946, she went to beauty and barber school, getting her license as a beauty operator and a barber. Then, she went to school to study fire and casualty insurance, getting her license to sell insurance.
“I also had my disability removed so that I could get a real estate license. Women could not work on their own back then. In 1947, I opened my office as a real estate agent, insurance agent, and a certified builder. From 1950-1970, I build hundreds of homes and apartments in Fort Worth, and then I went to work for a mortgage company, where I ran a branch for them for the next eight years.”
It was Missy who had to speak up to tell me that during all of this, Jerelene also fought and, of course, won a battle with cancer. Although Burney has been gone for almost a decade, I can tell from her speech that Jerri considers herself still married to the love of her life.
“On December 20, 2015, I will be married to my wonderful husband for 76 years. Our only child, Marlene, is 74. I’m 92 years old now, and all of my life has been directed by God or I would not have been able to do the things that I have done. I still live in my own home and drive my own car. I have 20/20 vision and still get up at 5:00 a.m. and go to bed at 8:00 p.m. I have written three books about our families and since I’m the last of our generation, I still feel like I need to tell the others what I know about our wonderful family members.”
This isn’t a 10th of what I learned from Jerri and yet, it is time that I close. I must say that I will never forget the beautiful impression this wonderful woman has left upon me, her only problem seeming to be the “damned” cats that continually inhabit her yard.
“I have taken 21 of them to the place where they take care of them, and I have given over $200.00 in donations. Someone neuters them and turns them out, and here they are in my yard again!” she moaned while I laughed silently. Of course, the laugh turned to a nod as she explained that she realized it would only “take one fall to do me in” and that the cats insist on curling around her legs as she walks.
I was forced to agree with her…damned cats! And then…I must admit I smiled one more time…but only a little smile! :)