Faribault’s foremost aviator, Elizabeth “Betty Wall” Strohfus, will have her name etched forever on Faribault’s Municipal Airport.
A unanimous vote from the Faribault City Council on Tuesday night makes the new name official as Faribault’s airport is now called, “Faribault Municipal Airport – Liz Wall Strohfus Field.”
Members of the American Association of University Women in Faribault proposed the name change, which led to a council discussion on the matter in June. On Tuesday, members of the group filled the City Council chambers to voice their support.
“I think this is appropriate to do this in her honor,” said Pat Rice, of the AAUW.
Strohfus was an aviation pioneer, being one of the first women to fly in World War II and a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). Among her achievements was her fight to get WASPs recognized as veterans, a goal she successfully achieved.
While she has garnered accolades from military and national organizations, Strohfus has yet to be officially honored by the city of Faribault, with the airport re-naming being the first. According to Rice, the re-name will also be another first.
“She would be the first WASP that had an airport named in their honor,” she told the council.
Rice credited fellow AAUW member Gloria Olson with the idea to honor Strohfus. While seemingly a slam dunk, the council wanted to talk with Strohfus’ family first before making an official name change to the airport.
One of the reasons to bring her family into the fold, joked Rice, was her many names.
“She was known by so many different names, so the family helped us out with what would be acceptable,” she said.
Born Elizabeth Strohfus, she adopted the name “Betty Wall” when she became a WASP. According to Art Roberts, her son, of Northfield, the name “Liz Wall Strohfus” sufficed.
Rice brought along some photographs of Strohfus for Tuesday night’s meeting, but the most immediate memories of Strohfus came from Roberts, who took the time to share some stories about his mother.
He reminisced about his mother’s speaking tours that would have her giving 60 to 80 talks a year across the country in her early 90s. The last year she toured was the year before she died, in 2015, where she gave 45 more talks.
“Her favorite thing to do was encourage kids,” said Roberts, who shared a story about his mother inspiring a young girl to become an Air Force pilot.
He also informed the council that the chief archivist of a WASP museum in Texas informed him that Strohfus’ name is the most requested name for those looking for information.
Roberts is currently going through his mother’s belongings in her apartment and has tabbed several items to be displayed at the Faribault Airport.
Councilor Elizabeth Cap asked the AAUW if a plaque could be displayed as well, to educate the public on Strohfus’ pioneering past, saying, “She was amazing.”
A lasting impact
Stemming from this announcement has been an outpouring of support for Strohfus and the project.
On Tuesday night, Faribault Mayor Kevin Voracek said, “It’s a great way to honor her name in Faribault and make sure her name lives on forever.”
The Faribault aviation community also voiced their overwhelming support for re-naming the airport on Tuesday prior the announcement.
“I think it’s an honor,” said Faribault Airport Manager Jerry Sears. “Liz was a really high profile and well deserved award winner in many things. She has been a good advocate for general aviation with her background in the Air Force and the WASPs.”
Sears gushed about Strohfus’ impact in the aviation community, expressing that her name holds great weight in the aviation circuit, especially in Minnesota.
“I think the city of Faribault and the people at the airport feel pretty proud to display her name,” said Sears.
Another important aviation group in the city is the Faribault Area Pilots Association (FAPA), which currently has around 70 members. In her 80s, Strohfus was named a lifelong member.
“I think it’s important and I think it’s the right thing to do because of her longtime contribution to aviation in the military and afterwards,” said longtime FAPA member and airport hangar owner Bob Peasley of the council’s decision.
“She was always available to talk to almost any group to educate them,” he said. “She was really dedicated to aviation and flying. Being from the Faribault area, I think this was the right thing to do.”
In the spring, a dedication ceremony is planned at the airport once the new signage denoting the name change is finished, announced Rice.
When the sign is erected, Strohfus’ name will be inextricably linked with Faribault aviation.