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Rosie the Riveter lives in Walnutport

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Sophia "Sue" Kester of Walnutport contributed to the World War II war effort through her work at Bethlehem Steel.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Sophia "Sue" Kester of Walnutport contributed to the World War II war effort through her work at Bethlehem Steel.
Published May 09. 2012 05:02PM

Among the many women who took defense jobs during World War II was Sophia "Sue" Kester of Walnutport. She worked at Bethlehem Steel operating a 10-ton crane.

The 92-year-old Kester was born in Palmerton and graduated from Stephen S. Palmer High School in 1937.

"We went through the Great Depression. Dad worked in the Zinc Company and Mom was mostly at home," she said.

During high school she worked doing housework in Residence Park for $1.75 a day. She moved on to Segal's Department Store, beginning at $5 a week for a 48-hour week and by the end of four years she was making $14. Because she spoke up, she was the first person to ever get overtime pay.

She asked for vacation pay, but was told, "You deserve it, but I didn't say when."

Kester walked out of the store so mad she cried, but she believed, "When something bad happens it's because something better is waiting."

She told her mother she was going to join the Woman's Army Corp or look for defense work. The idea of her daughter in the WACs so disturbed her mother that Kester applied at Bethlehem Steel.

She received training and when she was certified as a crane operator she was given a medal. If the medal was lost or not returned there was a 25-cent fine. Kester still has hers and did not pay the quarter.

"It was a good place to work," she said.

She worked a 10-ton overhead crane in the scarffing department. The department's job was to remove bad parts from a piece of steel. She said it was mostly small spots that had to be removed.

"That was one of the dirtiest places to work brown smoke so you couldn't even see the men on the floor," Kester said.

People, both she in the overhead and the men on the floor, had to wear respirators and change the filters frequently. She had to stand to operate the crane but does not recall for sure if there was a stool to sit down when it was not operating.

Six billets of steel were chained together before she moved them. One day she felt that a load was not chained tightly. She yelled to the men down below but they could not hear. When she started waving them off they jumped out of the way as the load fell.

The only investigation made was when an inspector asked if anyone was hurt.

When she got the job at the Steel she worked different shifts. Kester worked five days on and had two off but never on a regular schedule. She did not like the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift because she could not sleep in the day.

Any woman who got a job knew it wouldn't last after the war. However, she said it was different at Mack where a good woman worker would be kept on.

A Rosie the Riveter group called her on the telephone, but there was no further contact.

After the war she got a job with General Electric assembling toasters.

"They treated you like a human being with good pay and benefits a good union," said Kester.

It was where she met her husband to be, Allen. He had worked at several places and was discouraged by always seeking a new job. In 1955 he heard Mack was hiring. He began working there with the added benefit that the two worked the same hours.

Her mother-in-law was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She still has the DAR pin from that organization.

The home where she lived her entire married life was the home where Allen was raised.

"When we came here this area was nothing it was all wooded. The Canal Association cleaned it up. We have the Kester family reunion in the park pavilion. Allen's family was friendly just accepted me," she said.

She did not know Allen had earned the Purple Heart until she saw it one day. He had been in the Battle of the Bulge.

"He thought the world of Walnutport, so when he died I put up a flagpole in his honor in the canal park," said Kester.

She said she was always independent and Allen wanted her to know how to do things as well as he did.

"We were very compatible," she said.

She fell and broke a leg. After two months at Mrs. Bush's Personal Care Home, she returned home even though the doctor thought she should be there a third month.

Until the fall she was still driving a car.

Kester and a group of friends meet regularly at McDonalds to talk and enjoy each other's company.

She enjoys the Canal Festival that is held each fall, saying there is so much visiting that weekend. People come and sit with her on the porch and watch the goings-on.

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