The women who won the war: Connie Brown

Stories from some local ‘Rosie the Riveters’

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Rochester Post | Published April 29, 2015

 Connie Brown, of Rochester, holds a photo of her late husband, Harold Brown, who served in the U.S. Navy.

Connie Brown, of Rochester, holds a photo of her late husband, Harold Brown, who served in the U.S. Navy.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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Editor's note: This story about a local 'Rosie the Riveter' is one of a handful included in a full-length C & G Newspapers feature commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of World War II in Europe. The war in Europe ended with the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945. Click here for more V-E Day stories from our coverage area.

Connie Brown, 89, Rochester


If there’s one thing Connie Brown misses from her youth, it would be taking the streetcar to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see paintings by Rembrandt. He was her favorite.


Brown has always loved art, despite the fact that her father harshly discouraged her from pursuing her passion as a career. He wanted her to go to college to study for a law degree, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do that.


She stretched her creative muscles along the way, twirling the baton at the head of the Wayne State University marching band. Her husband of 60 years, Harold Brown, was just a boy then, too, and followed her into the band to play trombone.


“If I had gone to college, he would’ve followed me there, too,” Brown said of her late husband.


But she never applied to a university. Instead, she pursued art in the only way she could at the time, which was to contribute to the war effort. Living in Warren, she decorated dances at her local USO center with paintings of Li’l Abner, Daisy Mae and the Yokum Family.


Then, in 1944, she took her stills to the Guardian Building in Detroit and applied for a job as an illustrator with the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps. She was hired and went to work downtown across from General Motors and Saks Fifth Avenue.


“I had so much fun it was sinful,” said Brown with a laugh of her time working at the Ordnance.


While it was no secret that many metro Detroiters were making their way on scraps, the life of an illustrator was a bit different. She and her co-workers gallivanted around the city eating at cafés and mingling with Army officers. Life wasn’t easy, but Brown said there was always an excuse to have a good time.


“I was only 13 or 14 when they first announced the war, and it really struck all of us. But I was just having too much fun,” she said.


Back in the studio, Brown’s job was to take Army images — anything from tanks to posed officers — and fill them with color to make them look good for high-ranking military officials.


“All you had to know how to do was mix olive green,” Brown joked. “But I loved it. My boss was fabulous. He was an airbrush artist from Chicago who would come in spouting Shakespeare. I had such a wonderful experience.”


Meanwhile, her love, Harold, was serving in the Navy as a firefighter on a ship in a destroyer escort. In 1945, he got a 10-day leave around Memorial Day and, while he was home, the two were married at National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church in Royal Oak.


“We had a beautiful wedding. We got caught in a parade on the way because it was Memorial Day,” Brown said. “Because everyone was rationing, my dad went to a farm in Armada and got 50-100 chickens. He gave them to the cook, and that’s what we ate at our wedding.”


Brown eventually left her job at the Ordnance, and her husband returned home from the war safe, though not all of his friends were as lucky, she recalled. The pair moved several times over the years and raised four children, then two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


It was sometime during the 1950s that Brown said she stopped going to art classes to paint. That’s when the “degreed people” started attending local art societies and, since Brown wasn’t formally trained, she felt she wasn’t treated very warmly.


“I paint because it’s something I love, because I feel it. Everything has to be creative. I’m not good at sitting in a little room and taking meetings,” she said.


But that didn’t stop her from creating beautiful works of award-winning art that are not only sprawled throughout her eclectic home, but also around homes and municipal buildings in Oakland County. When her husband passed away in 2005, though, she couldn’t get the creative juices flowing again. She hasn’t painted since.


“I’ve had a busy life, and when I haven’t had something to do, I’d paint,” she said.

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