In some respects, Elinor Otto lives an ordinary life. She drives to the grocery store, cooks, cleans, and writes letters to her friends.
“I don’t drive a fancy car and I don’t really cook anything exciting,” Otto says.
What is extraordinary is the fact that Elinor Otto is 99 years old. And she was one of the original Rosie the Riveters. Last week, she was honored at halftime of a Long Beach State basketball game.
“I still drive on the freeway and I drive at night,” she says with a chuckle. “I’ve been driving since I was a teenager and I don’t intend to slow down now.”
Otto says she can’t explain her health and vitality. She doesn’t follow any sort of special diet or exercise regime, she just says she likes to stay busy.
“I don’t have any secrets, but I do have a sense of humor and I enjoy people,” Otto explains. “I’m just someone who likes to work and keep moving.”
Otto worked until 2014, when Boeing closed its Long Beach assembly plant. She was 95 at the time.
One of the original Rosie the Riveters, Elinor Otto began building airplanes for Rohr Aircraft in 1942. She initially used a machine with a foot pedal, but said the plant soon switched to hand-held rivet guns.
“Because of my size, some men didn’t think I could handle it, but I showed them I could,” Otto says. “As women, we had to keep proving ourselves.”
Otto was employed by Rohr until 1945, when female workers were laid off. She tried her hand at more traditional jobs, but was not happy in an office environment. She said she was thrilled when an opportunity arose with Ryan Aeronautical, where she worked until 1964.
In 1965, Otto moved to Long Beach to work for Douglas Aircraft (later known as McDonnell Douglas and, finally, as Boeing).
“They were hiring women and they promised me 10 years,” Otto says.
As it turned out, she spent nearly 50 years there, putting rivets on C-17 aircraft until production stopped. When news organizations learned about her energy and staying power, Otto was featured on the "Today Show" and the "Ellen DeGeneres Show."
“Women went to work during the war and we were happy to do our part, but we didn’t really realize how important it was,” Otto says. “Decades later, we learned that we had paved the way for women to become CEOs and have other top jobs. Now women can really do anything and I’m proud of that.”
Last December, Otto was invited to March Air Force Base to fly aboard one of the C-17s she helped manufacture. She said she loved the honor and was even happier when she saw that six members of the eight-person flight crew were women.
“I see things like that and I realize we Rosies really did something,” Otto says.
During Long Beach State's game against Southern Utah, Otto was honored at halftime. Her grandson John Perry joined her at the event, but Otto strode onto the court and spoke by herself.
“We Rosies helped on airplanes and battleships, but we didn’t have to fight the enemy," she said. "My heart goes out to all you veterans, as they are the reason our flag is still flying. Much love. May God bless you all. May the best team win!”
Inspired by the feisty 99-year old, the CSULB squad played a powerful second half, defeating Southern Utah, 82 to 71.