Nellie Willhite Essay

Submitted By Cem8245C
Words: 1198
Pages: 5

(A Pioneer)
Eleanor Zabel Willhite
Callie Miller
ASL 102
February 24, 2015

“Come back again sometime, you haven’t heard the half of it.” Nellie Willhite in an interview with Doug Lund invites him to listen to more of her story as he concludes the interview. (Lund) This feisty 90 year old had some spunk left in her from the high flying days of old. She was the first woman pilot in South Dakota and that independent streak never left. This little pistol also happened to be Deaf. Eleanor “Nellie” Zabel was born on November 22, 1892. Her parents name were Lillian Madison Zabel and Charles Zabel. She was born on the family ranch near Box Elder, South Dakota. Charley “Pard” Zabel, a prosperous ox breeder, was able to provide a decent living for his little family. 1894, at two years old, Nellie developed a high fever. This high fever raged until the doctor was able to arrive. He examined her and informed the Zabel’s their daughter had the measles. This disease in 1894 was life threatening due to no treatment or cure, as the vaccine was not created until 1968. Nellie was able to recover but this disease had left her profoundly Deaf. (Rice) Her parents were devastated, Lillian was devoted to Nellie’s care and early education. While meeting her father in California after he came back from the Spanish American War in 1898, Nellie’s mother died, Nellie was eight years old at the time. (Johnsson) Charley, still grieving, moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Nellie was enrolled at the State School for the Deaf. At the turn of the century, this school like many others taught what was called “Deaf Culture”. The students were taught to live with their handicap and were punished for use of sign language. She was cared for by Dr. Leonard C and Dollie Mead of Yankton, who tutored her and taught her to read lips. (Dakota Images) Love came and went for Nellie Zabel, who was married to Dr. Frank V. Willhite for a short while. Frank Willhite was the superintendent of South Dakota Home for the Feeble Minded. (On This Date) A reason is never given for the dissolving of the marriage but Dr. Willhite’s stance on sterilization of the feeble minded may have been a deciding factor in the separation. Nellie moved to Pierre, South Dakota and worked as a typist for the South Dakota Secretary of State, Gladys Pyle. (Johnsson) Nellie moved back to Sioux Falls and visited Renner Airport to watch the airplanes. She met Harold Tennat, the flying instructor, who says she can learn to fly. Nellie wrote to her father, who now lived in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He gave her the money to take lessons and encouraged her. She took her first flying lesson at 34 years old. The lessons were spanned out over two months due to inclement weather. (A Pioneer) Thirteen is a significant number in Nellie’s life. This number was the amount of hours needed for training; also on the date of January 13, 1928 she flew solo. She laughed at the Friday the 13th superstitions. She was also the 13th diploma from the Dakota Airline School. What could stop this high flying aviator? Charles Zabel purchased her first Eaglerock biplane so lovingly nicknamed “Pard” painted blue and silver for approximately $2700. (Lund) This aircraft is shown still today in an exhibit at the Southern Aviation Museum in Birmingham, Alabama. She was able to give rides and earn a living as a “barnstormer” (Fookem). A barnstormer performed in air shows, races, and special rides. Nellie was known as being outstanding in tight, fast maneuvering that is essential in balloon target racing. Nellie served as a commercial pilot until 1944 to deliver airmail. She was the first and only Deaf person to accomplish this feat (Rice). Nellie served as the ground school instructor and inspector of B-19 military aircraft propellers. She helped to plan the first national air races for women and was a charter member of the “Ninety-Nines” Club. (Burgh) The Ninety-Nines was a group of great women flyers, this group was