From left, Gertrude Defever, Michigan Rosie the Riveter President Bette Kenward and Lucille Grewe pose for a photo June 2 outside Oakmont Parkway in Clinton Township. A crowd assembled for Grewe’s 108th birthday celebration.

From left, Gertrude Defever, Michigan Rosie the Riveter President Bette Kenward and Lucille Grewe pose for a photo June 2 outside Oakmont Parkway in Clinton Township. A crowd assembled for Grewe’s 108th birthday celebration.

Photo by Nick Mordowanec

Original Rosie the Riveter celebrated on 108th birthday

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 23, 2020


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Lucille Grewe was the center of attention June 2, surrounded by friends and family celebrating her 108th birthday.

Grewe, a resident at Oakmont Parkway in Clinton Township, is an original Rosie the Riveter and member of the Women Ordinance Workers, or W.O.W., chapter.

That day she was modest and soft-spoken, keeping a smile on her face while she recalled making 40 cents per hour and working on B-17 wings at Briggs Manufacturing, on Connor Avenue in Detroit, in the World War II era.

“I liked my job, I really liked it,” Grewe told a gathered crowd in the front of the Oakmont building, recalling posing with Rosie the Riveter posters many decades ago.

She was born in 1912 in Buckner, Illinois, the third of five children to Ernst and Bertha Grewe. Her childhood consisted of walking with her siblings to deliver coffee and a lunch bucket to her father, who worked in the mines.

Her life has been a constant of change. She recalled seeing her cousin go off to fight in World War I. She lived through the ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. And she worked on a family farm, planting crops and raising livestock, in the midst of the Great Depression.

While in her 20s she moved to Michigan, where she helped the country. After the war, she worked at Mack Avenue Plant, working on car bodies. She remained there through the company’s transition to Chrysler, eventually retiring in 1971.

Her entire life she was a front-row witness to changes in technology and ideology.

“As a Rosie the Riveter, Lucille’s hard work, grit and patriotism not only sustained the American war effort, but paved a path for generations of working women to follow,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell wrote in a declaration in Grewe’s honor.


Resiliency and inspiration
She was seated in a wheelchair next to her friend, Gertrude Defever, another resident and Rosie, who lives on the same floor as Grewe.

The event was set up by the Michigan W.O.W. chapter, headed by President Bette Kenward, in coordination with Oakmont administration. Kenward’s grandmother, Marion Chapin, was also an original Rosie who worked between 1943 and 1945.

Kenward said a normal celebration wasn’t possible due to the pandemic. This event, full of pomp and circumstance for Grewe’s longevity, “was the next best thing.”

“We want to make sure she knows she’s respected and loved and needs to be honored every single day, and not just today,” Kenward said June 2. “It just amazes me, all that they’ve been through. It amazes me from how amazing they are.

“And if we can draw from what they went through and how resilient and inspiring they are today, then we have nothing to complain about. They’ve been through so much more than we’ve ever been through.”

Oakmont Parkway Executive Director Cyndi Tanner said Kenward contacted her and wanted Grewe to be recognized in the way she deserved. Grewe is the oldest resident at Oakmont.

“We feel very honored that she picked us in the first place, to come and live with us,” Tanner said. “But (also) very honored to be able to celebrate her life with us here.”

Grewe is the aunt of Janeen Greathouse’s husband. The two have a special bond, with Greathouse referring to Grewe as her own aunt. When Grewe turned 100 years old, Greathouse thought that in itself was a major deal.

Prior to the pandemic, the two would spend time together and share a glass of wine. On June 2, after nearly three months of only speaking to Grewe on the phone, Greathouse got emotional when she finally got to see her in person.

“On my way over I was in tears,” Greathouse said. “It’s her birthday and I have been given a gift to see her, because I haven’t seen her for three months. So, it’s a gift for me. I’m so thankful to see her again.”

After telling stories and sharing memories, Grewe sat near the entrance holding cards and gifts while a mini-parade took place in the parking lot. Rosie chapter members drove by and honked their horns, as did a Clinton Township Fire Department truck and a MedStar ambulance, among numerous others.

Many vehicles were decorated with signs thanking Grewe and congratulating her on a life well lived. The smile never left her face.