March is National Women’s History Month and this year’s theme, “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” is an opportunity to write the contributions of women in the essential fabric of our nation’s history. Accounts of the lives of individual women are important, because they reveal exceptionally strong role models who share a more expansive vision of what a woman can do.
Audrey Esser was one of a number of women who demonstrated that strength by enlisting in the service during World War II. Audrey Esser was born to John and Lillie (Parrish) Nobles in Butler County, Mo. on June 15, 1919. In May of 1943, she entered the U.S. Army Air Corp and served until October of 1945, rising to a final rank of Corporal.
Audrey was an instrument flying instructor in the Link Training Department, where simulators were used to expose pilots to training. She served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), where she was one of seven women selected to become a flight instructor who would train pilots to safely land their planes during a blackout, or night mission.
She received her training at Daytona Beach, Fla., and advanced training at Kellogg Air Force Base, Mich. The remainder of her time was spent at Barksdale Field, Shreveport, La. There, she met her husband, Bob Esser. He was an altitude trainer instructor. They were married Feb. 10, 1945. At the end of the war, they made their home in Perham, raising seven children.
Bob became a plumber. In 1951, he worked in Thule, Greenland on a military construction project for four 9-month stints. When he returned to Perham, he continued plumbing and worked for Stan Sayer before buying that business and forming Esser Plumbing. In 1960, he became manager of the Perham Natural Gas Department and remained in that position for 25 years. In 1977, he sold Esser Plumbing to his son, Joe. Bob died Nov. 19, 1985. He was a member of St. Henry’s Catholic Church, Knights of Columbus and the American Legion.
Audrey lived in Perham the rest of her life. She was a member of Catholic Daughters, Christian Mothers, VFW Auxiliary and East Otter Tail Unit of the American Cancer Society. She liked to travel, sew, cook, read, do water aerobics and garden. Her greatest joy was frequent visits from family and friends. Audrey Esser died Sept. 28, 2013, at the age of 94. She has many descendants in the area, all of whom can be proud of the contribution that she made to history.
Information for this article came from the National Women’s History Project, the Perham Enterprise Bulletin, and the East Otter Tail History Books, available online at www.HistoryMuseumEOT.org. Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.