Ray Hunter, chairman of the Yankee Air Museum, shakes hands with Loraine Osborne, a former “Rosie the Riveter” who worked at the Willow Run bomber plant, during a ceremony that honored her and others who contributed to the war effort, in Ypsilanti Township, Mich.
DETROIT — The Detroit-area factory where Rosie the Riveter showed that a woman could do a “man’s work” by building World War II-era bombers has been saved from the wrecking ball, organizers of a campaign to build a museum on the site announced today.
The site’s manager had given the Save the Willow Run Bomber Plant campaign a deadline of today to raise the $8 million needed to buy a 150,000-square-foot portion of the larger property.
As recently as Tuesday morning, the group was about $1 million short of its goal, but later in the day “closed on a big one,” fundraising consultant Michael Montgomery said.
That allowed Montgomery and his partners to get “within spitting distance of the full eight (million)” and enough to go forward with a purchase agreement, which he expects to be finalized in seven to 10 days.
Meanwhile, those behind the effort will go back to raising the additional dollars needed to make the new Yankee Air Museum a reality.
“We’re going to go on raising money past May 1, because we’ve got to build the plant out and create the exhibits of the new museum that we’ve promised.”
Those exhibits will focus on the history of the plant and vintage aircraft, but Rosie will be a star as well, just as she was seven decades ago.
Although women performed what had been male-dominated roles in plants all over the country during the war, it was a Willow Run worker — one of an untold number of women in its 40,000-person workforce — who caught the eye of Hollywood producers casting a “riveter” for a government film about the war effort at home.
Rose Will Monroe, a Kentucky native who moved to Michigan during the war, starred as herself in the film and became one of the best-known figures of that era. She represented the thousands of Rosies who took factory jobs making munitions, weaponry and other items while the nation’s men were off fighting in Europe and the Pacific.
The Willow Run factory, which was built by Ford Motor Co. and featured a mile-long assembly line, churned out one B-24 Liberator bomber every hour and nearly 9,000 in all. It transitioned to producing cars after the war ended and continued making them and parts for more than a half-century under the General Motors name before closing for good in 2010.
Now, the plant in Ypsilanti Township is being razed in part to make way for a connected vehicle research center.
The hulking facility currently is in the hands of the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, which took over sites around the country left behind in GM’s bankruptcy.
RACER Trust gave the Save the Bomber campaign a number of fundraising extensions, but no more were forthcoming because demolition already is underway on other parts of the plant.
Bruce Rasher, redevelopment manager for the trust, said he was “pleased that the Yankee Air Museum has reached this point in the process.”
“Our mutual goal remains to see the former hangar redeveloped as the future home of the museum, an outcome the community clearly supports,” he said.
As for the Save the Bomber campaign’s next move, Montgomery said, “Over this weekend, we’re all going to veg out and take a break. We’ll be back at it on Monday.
“(We’re feeling) a combination of relief about the initial objective and a sense of: On to the rest of it,” he said.