Benicia resident and World War II riveter Dorothy Wivel passed away from pneumonia Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the age of 100.
Wivel was born Nov. 20, 1915 in the small town of Cedar Grove, Ark. In 1934, she married Ernie Wivel, and in 1942, she moved to California shortly after the U.S. started taking part in World War II. As her son-in-law Richard Reza described it, she became a bit of a “Rosie the Riveter,” working as a welder in shipyards in San Francisco, Richmond and even at Mare Island. Her husband served as supervisor.
“She used to tell us stories about things that happened to her when she was working on ships,” Reza said. “She’d talk about going down into the bilges or having to go to the top of masts on ships to replace the lights and replacing lightbulb holders on Liberty ships that had been shot out.”
“She had done a lot of things that the other women didn’t want to or wouldn’t do, and she did them because her husband was the supervisor,” he added. “He called for Dorothy to do the things the other women didn’t want to do.”
After the war ended, Wivel continued to work as a welder until 1955. In 1965, Ernie became ill, and Dorothy looked after him until he died in 1984. The Wivels had moved to Benicia in 1978, and after Ernie’s passing, Dorothy moved into the Benicia Senior Center in 1984. She lived there until 2008, when she was transferred to a senior care facility in Vallejo.
Even in her later years, Wivel loved the outdoors and traveling to places like Germany and across the country for family reunions in Ohio and Arkansas. Additionally, she shared her husband’s love of hunting, camping and fishing. One of her proudest moments came when she caught a 6-foot-plus sturgeon all by herself while fishing in Rodeo in the ‘50s.
Wivel also loved her family and would come to visit her grandchildren at their football, baseball and basketball matches.
“She used to just walk from the senior building to the little league field to watch them play,” Reza said.
Wivel was also loved for her generosity and perseverance.
“She was generous to everyone,” Reza said. “She wasn’t financially set, but that didn’t stop her from doing the things she wanted to do. She was a wonderful lady.”
A memorial is planned for early 2016, but a date has not yet been set.