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Ridgewood to honor famous WASP alumnus

Bayley Bosca to be given school’s first Distinguished Alumni Award during three-day event.

Schedule

Alumni Reunion events will include:

Thursday, 7 p.m.: "The Sky's the Limit" art opening at the Springfield Museum of Art. Ridgewood students will have their own public art exhibit inspired by mobiles.

Friday, 1 p.m.: "Cleared for Take Off" student assembly at Ridgewood School. Six WASP and comrades of Caro Bayley Bosca will jury a student rocket launching contest. The winner will receive a seat on a B-25 plane flyover the following day. Wright-Patterson AFB's 88th Air Base Wing Commander Capt. John M. Devillier will also attend.

Saturday, 10 a.m.-noon: "Brunch with the Brass" at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana. Six former WASPs will deliver a keynote address. Admission fee is $20.

Saturday, 2-5 p.m.: Ridgewood School Family Fall Festival. This event is free and open to the public and will include an unveiling of a mural highlighting the original Ridgewood and Caro Bayley Bosca, family activities such as live music, games, food and a World War II-era B-25 aircraft flyover at 3 p.m.

During a typical day at Ridgewood School, Caro Bayley Bosca’s attention would regularly turn skyward. The historic Springfield school will do the same this week in honoring its famous alumnus.

Ridgewood will honor the late Bayley Bosca, a 1933 graduate, with its first Distinguished Alumni Award at its Flying Higher Alumni Weekend. Events will run Thursday through Saturday.

When the U.S. entered World War II, Springfield native Bayley Bosca wasn’t doing what was expected of women of the time. She was busy earning her wings as one of the Women Air Force Service Pilots, better known as WASPs, the first women to fly American military aircraft. The aviation pioneer later received a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award.

The Alumni Weekend will include several events open to the public, highlighted by a reunion of six former WASPs, all of which are now in their 90s, as keynote speakers.

“We thought this would be a great way to bring the school back to its roots,” said Beth Dixon, Ridgewood’s director of development and alumni relations. “We’ve set up a creative curriculum around Caro.”

Ridgewood students, who are in kindergarten through eighth grade, have been learning about World War II, Bayley Bosca’s record-breaking feats and aviation principles.

Nell “Mickey” Bright trained with Bayley Bosca during WASP and B-25 school and remembers her fondly.

“She was an excellent pilot, a wonderful friend and a joy to be around,” Bright, age 94, said.

Bright said it was a challenge learning to fly. But the lasting impact means she can share her story with others and stay close with her fellow WASPs.

“It’s always good to see the girls and it’s nice they are honoring Caro,” she said.

After her WASP training, Bayley Bosca joined the first women’s air show. Then in 1951, she set the altitude record for Class II aircraft, received the Bleriot Medal of Honor and held the record until 1986.

Soon after setting the record, Bayley Bosca married and had four children, keeping her attention earth-bound before the skies called her back in the 1970s.

Ridgewood students are working with local artist Sherry Ringler on a mural commemorating Bayley Bosca and her inspirational achievements.

The mural depicts Ridgewood’s original building; a Pitts Special plane that Bayley Bosca owned and flew; a swing, which was one of her favorite childhood pleasures as she loved the weightlessness; and the message, “She flew higher, we can, too.”

Ringler was one of Bayley Bosca’s closest friends.

When she was 4, Ringler said her grandfather introduced her to reading with a newspaper photo caption and an aviation story that just happened to be about Bayley Bosca.

By chance, the women would meet later in life and become friends until Bayley Bosca’s death in 2007.

“There was never any feeling of an age difference between us,” Ringler said. “For me, she was one of my childhood heroes, right up there with Annie Oakley and Davey Crockett.”

Ringler said she’s honored to work on the mural, but Bayley Bosca likely wouldn’t have wanted to be singled out.

“She used to say kids need examples and she’d be happy for that,” said Ringler.

Caro was one of 16 Bayleys to attend Ridgewood, and her uncle, Lee Bayley, was one of the school’s founders in 1918.

Current Ridgewood fifth-grader Eleni Linardos is excited about the Alumni Weekend events.

“It’s cool somebody that amazing went to my school,” she said. “Her story gives me more motivation than I already have.”

For more information on the Flying Higher Alumni Weekend, call 937-399-8900, ext. 15.