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Lorain ‘Rosie the Riveter’ recalls WW II

Rosie the Riveter (Department of Defense/Released)

When Mary Molnar-Clay was a young woman, she never knew the life she was about to embark on — and the history that would be made.

Molnar-Clay was a Northeast Ohio “Rosie the Riveter, which the term was created 80 years ago.

Molnar-Clay, 104, is a resident of Mercy Health — New Life Hospice at 3500 Kolbe Road in Lorain.

“Rosie the Riveter” was an iconic poster of a female factory worker flexing her muscle, exhorting other women to join the World War II effort with the declaration that “We Can Do It!,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense website.

Artist Norman Rockwell’s cover for the May 29, 1943, issue of The Saturday Evening Post magazine was an illustration of a female riveter with the name “Rosie” painted on the lunch pail, according to the website.

American women played important roles during World War II, both at home and in uniform. About 5 million civilian women served in the defense industry and elsewhere in the commercial sector during World War II with the aim of freeing a man to fight, the website states.

Born in Pennsylvania on Sept. 29, 1918, Molnar-Clay moved to the Cleveland area for work soon after World War II broke out.

This led her to a job with the IX Center in Cleveland where she found herself working on airplanes.

She also found her husband, Harling Dines-Clay, of Alabama. He died in December 1987.

“I was working at the IX Center in Cleveland and was waiting for train to take to New York,” Molnar-Clay said. “Now, on the walls, were two giant clocks on either side.

“Still, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder and a young sailor said ‘sugah, do you know the time?’ And there he was.”

The two took the train together to Brooklyn where he was stationed with the U.S. Navy.

The entire time, they talked and Molnar-Clay said she fell in love.

“We went on three dates, and on the third one, he asked me to marry him,” she said. “Now, we were caught in one of those revolving doors and he said he wasn’t going to let me out until I said yes.”

The two married and began their life traveling the country for his job.

They have two sons, Larry and Ron, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

But Molnar-Clay said she didn’t let her husband’s busy schedule control her life as a woman of service.

“Before I married, as well as after, I went to the Bell Aircraft corporation in Buffalo, N.Y., where I worked as a riveter on planes,” she said. “We put together some of the first planes in the country that went from manual pedal control to push power.”

Joining the ranks of hundreds of other women who went to work while their husbands were away, Molnar-Clay took on the mantle of the infamous Rosie the Riveter, becoming Cleveland’s own version of the popular heroine.

Still, she said her job wasn’t all sunshine and rivets.

“I remember one day when we were going to work, a pilot flying one of the planes I worked on had crashed and died,” Molnar-Clay said. “It was horrific.

“I know the part that broke wasn’t the one I worked on, but we all still got a talking to and made going back to work a little difficult. I don’t like to fly ever since that day, because I know exactly how the planes are made.”

One aspect of her job that Molnar-Clay holds on to was the strong bonds she made with the others in her field.

From initiations to waiting for their husbands to come home from deployment, Molnar-Clay and her fellow “Rosies” stuck together.

In 2019, she along with others still living in the area were honored at Kent State University — Trumbull with a presentation on their life’s work.

Molnar-Clay also received a proclamation from the mayor of Cortland, Ohio, where she spent her later years.

On her 100th birthday, the city declared the day “Mary Clay Day.”

“While it is seen as a piece of history now, that was just my life and job,” she said. “I have lived 104 years and have seen history continue.

“It’s been a pleasure being a part of it myself.”


(c) 2023 The Morning Journal

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