Monday, April 26, 2010

Lessons from Sharpie

Diane Bartels emotionally tells the story of "Sharpie" to a crowd in Milligan.

A model of the P-38 plane that took the life of Nebraska's Aviatrix Evelyn Sharp with a copy of her biography behind it.

The crowd in Milligan hears the story of "Sharpie from her biographer Diane Bartels.

Diane Bartels tells the story of "Sharpie" to a crowd in Milligan.

Diane Bartels autographs copies of her biography Sharpie, The Life Story of Evelyn Sharp, Nebraska's Aviatrix.

One teenager plus one small town equals endless possibilities and the sky is not the limit.

That is the story behind Nebraska teen aviatrix Evelyn Sharp and the town of Ord, a story that Diane Bartels knows very well.

Sharpie, as she preferred to be called, entered the life of Bartels at the airfield in Ord at the first Nebraska State Fly-in. The airport in Ord, known as Sharp Field, was hosting the Fly-In and was also planning to honor Evelyn Sharp with a national historical marker. Inside the hanger, Sharp’s mentor, Dr. Auble, was manning a table filled with letters and documents about Sharp, he was fishing for someone to tell her story and then, he met Bartels.

Bartels spoke last week in downtown Milligan to a crowd, most of whom witnessed the era of Sharp firsthand. She spoke of Sharp as “a woman I never met but through my research have grown to love.”

It is obvious that she has become absorbed in the amazing but short life of Sharp. It’s no wonder, for it is a fascinating story that starts with a teenage girl in the 1930’s and how the town of Ord supported her.

Bartels tells the story of how it began with Sharp receiving free flying lessons from a boarder in her parents’ rooming house who didn’t have the cash for his bill. After receiving her pilot’s license Sharp had no plane to fly so the downtown businesses got together and put a down payment on a plane for her.

The story continues when the town supports her barnstorming days, as she hauls over 5,000 passengers along with her father and her dog.

She eventually obtains a commercial pilots license and even an instructor’s license, a very rare thing for a woman in the dirty thirties. Of course, the town of Ord held a benefit dance to raise money for her to attend school in Lincoln even though she was only 20. As the only woman in Nebraska to fly during airmail week, there were hundreds on had to greet her with the postmaster at Ord.

Eventually this pilot instructed other pilots in preparation for World War II and herself was called up by the government, if she was interested, to find her own way to the East Coast and she would have a job transporting planes to save the male pilots from using up their available air time.

Bartels emphasized that although Sharp and the other women who answered the government telegram were members of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Pilots (WAFP, later designated as WASP), in no way were they recognized as military. There was no equal pay, nor were there benefits but they endured all the same risks as their male counterparts.

Most of their time was spent shuttling planes from factories to bases on the East Coast and 38 female members of their group were killed in service to their country. Not until 1977 did Congress recognize these female pilots as veterans finally awarding them gold medals.

When Sharp arrived in Delaware to join the WAFP she had logged almost 3,000 hours of air time “more than anyone else,” according to Bartels.

Bartels retold the story of the last flight Sharp would take and was obviously distressed as she related the story of the crash that killed her. At 24 years old the “Queen of the Air” as she was known was gone. The Ord newspaper headline read “Ord’s Favorite Daughter Will Fly No More.”

Bartels emphasized the story behind the story especially for the younger crowd, “she came from a background that was not able to support her dreams but there were other people in the community help her make those aviation dreams come true…she struggled and had disappointments, flunked one of her flight school, grounding test and yet she didn’t give up. No one who looks successful in their life reached that point in their life without some detours or set backs what makes them different is that they didn’t give up they found a way to make their dreams a reality or they found it within themselves.”

Eventually Bartels collected all of her information into a book, entitled Sharpie, The Life Story of Evelyn Sharp, Nebraska’s Aviatrix.” She speaks all over the country at schools, aviation clubs, and groups telling the story of Sharpie. Bartels can be reached and her book can be purchased by contacting her at

The Milligan Public Library, funding from the Nebraska Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, sponsored the program in Milligan.

Editor's note: This event occurred in Milligan but was definitely a story that doesn't hurt to tell.

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