|Birth: ||Mar. 16, 1922|
|Death: ||Jun. 28, 2013|
Esther was born to Edward and Henrietta Noffke. While growing up on her family's farm in the central Illinois town of Union Hill, she watched airplanes soaring overhead and dreamed of flight.
She never doubted that she would become a pilot. During her years at Reddick High School, she skipped lunch, pocketing the money until she had saved enough for flying lessons at Koerner's Airport near Kankakee, Illinois. She continued building up her flying hours after graduation, and learned of a pilot training program that taught qualified women pilots to fly military aircraft, the Women Airforce Service Program (WASP).
She applied, past all the associated tests, and was accepted. She paid her own way to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, one of 112 members of class 44-2. They were the first WASP to wear the brand new Santiago blue uniforms. After completing seven months of strenuous flight training, on March 13, 1944, Esther and 48 of her classmates earned their silver WASP wings. They passed in review in front of Commanding General of the Army Air Force Hap Arnold, WASP Director Jacqueline Cochran, and Executive for WASP ATC/FD Nancy Love.
Esther received immediate orders to report to Dodge City Army Air Base in Kansas where she completed the B-26 transition flight training program. She later recalled, "I couldn't believe I got that assignment! They had already made the selection of the 20 pilots who would go to Dodge City, and I couldn't qualify because I was half an inch too short. We had the option of putting down three choices, and I put down 'B-26 School' for all three, so I finally got to go."
Her next assignment was at Gowen Army Air Base in Boise, Idaho. She flew B-26s alongside B-17s to challenge formation integrity and train the B-17 pilots for combat. From Gowen, she transferred to Dyersburg Army Air Field in Tennessee where she flew tracking missions and co-piloted B-17s.
After the WASP were disbanded in December 1944, she paid her way home. She couldn't find a piloting job, but did work in the Pal Waukee Airport shop in Wheeling, Illinois. Eventually, she became a flight instructor, teaching ground school classes and Link training. George Priester bought the air field and hired her as his administrative assistant. She became an important part of the Priester Aviation team as they developed the little airfield into the Chicago Executive Airport.
In 1977, the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame elected her a member. She served on the Woman's Advisory Committee On Aviation under President Lyndon Johnson from 1970-1972. In 1987, the International Forest of Friendship elected her a member. She also maintained membership in the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of women pilots.
Esther agreed to an interview with her former WASP classmate, Jean Hascall Cole, for a book entitled, *Women Pilots of World War II*. Esther had only one comment: "I just don't want us to sound frivolous. We weren't frivolous. We were really serious."
In 2010, the US Congress awarded Esther and her fellow WASP the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award that body can bestow. She attended the ceremony held in Washington, DC. Charlie Priester, Chairman of Priester Aviation and George Priester's son, accompanied her, together with friends and family.
She took her last flight after suffering a stroke. On the day of her funeral, Chicago Executive Airport, now a busy terminal near Chicago's O'Hare, shut down for an hour in tribute so that her funeral cortege could process down the taxiway and runway and around the control tower. They drove under two fire trucks with the stars and stripes hanging between extended ladders. A bagpiper played, "Amazing Grace." A US Air Force honor guard gently removed the flag from over her coffin, folded it, and presented it to her family while a trumpeter played "Taps."
Esther is survived by her sister, Hilda Schultz; brother, Edward (Maggie) Noffke; and many nieces, nephews, and friends. Her parents and sisters, Alma Berberovich and Mildred Reiniche, preceded her in death.
Memorials to remember this aviation pioneer may be made to the Esther Noffke Aviation Scholarship Fund at Southern Illinois University:
Southern Illinois University
Attn:, Director of Advancement
1365 Douglas Drive, Mail Code 6604
Carbondale, IL 62901.
By Nancy Parrish.
Edward Noffke (1895 - 1960)
Henrietta Noffke (1892 - 1963)
All Saints Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum
Created by: PerseidsGirl
Record added: Aug 07, 2013
Find A Grave Memorial# 115091774
A true patriot. Thank you for your service.|
Added: Sep. 17, 2013
Thank you for your heroic service, Esther. Fly high!|
Added: Aug. 7, 2013