GRCC remembers Mildred 'Jane' Doyle as an inspiring trailblazer

Feb. 1, 2019 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.  – Grand Rapids Community College extends condolences to the family of Mildred “Jane” (Baessler) Doyle, a military aviation pioneer who was the college’s Distinguished Alumna of 2018.

Doyle, 97, died Friday.

“Jane Doyle said attending Grand Rapids Junior College in 1940 changed her ‘whole life’ -- and what an amazing life it was,” GRCC President Bill Pink said. “Jane was a military aviation pioneer, putting her life on the line to serve her country. Hers is a story of determination, bravery and sacrifice. We share our heartfelt condolences with her family, and she will continue to inspire GRCC students for years to come.”

Doyle was part of the elite Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. She and the other WASP aviators flew stateside missions for the military to free up male pilots for overseas combat.

Of the 25,000 volunteers, fewer than 2,000 were accepted into the WASP program and 1,078 of them graduated from training. They transported aircraft, equipment and personnel, and performed flight tests on planes that had undergone repairs. While they worked with the military, they were considered civilians. They had to cover the costs of their housing, travel and even their uniforms. If a pilot in the program died — and 38 did — her family paid the costs to transport the body home.

Doyle attended what was then Grand Rapids Junior College in 1940 and in a 2014 interview summed up her experience this way: “Junior college changed my whole life — my whole plan.”

She had intended to go into architecture because her brother wanted her to join him in his business. At that time, GRJC didn’t have an architecture program, but Doyle took engineering courses that would transfer to the University of Michigan. It was while she was in one of those engineering classes that the instructor made an announcement that caught her attention: GRJC President Arthur Andrews had received federal approval to run a Civilian Pilot Training program.

“They said they’d let one girl in for every nine fellows, so I had to pass a physical and I got into the flying program that summer,” Doyle said.

After completing the program, she transferred to U of M. She earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and interior design in 1943 — while keeping up her flying time with the Civil Air Patrol.

After graduating, Doyle joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

“My family encouraged me in anything I wanted to try,” Doyle said in a 2007 interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project. “And my brother, at that time, was in the Navy, and my oldest sister was in the Red Cross in Texas. And so my family were very patriotic people, and they were proud to have us serve.”

After the WASP program was disbanded in December 1944, she worked with visually impaired children for a few years and then for Aquinas College, all the while raising her five children.

Doyle and the other WASP members received military veteran status in 1977. In 2010, she and the other surviving pilots were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. She was the last living WASP in Michigan, according to Texas Women’s University, home to the organization’s archives.

Doyle received the Distinguished Alumna Award during GRCC’s 2018 commencement, to the accompaniment of a standing ovation from the graduates.

Associate Provost Tina Hoxie worked with Doyle at Aquinas and called her a trailblazer.

"She accomplished so much in her life, and it was always enjoyable to reconnect with her," Hoxie said. "I can still see the image of our students giving her a high five as she departed following her distinguished alumna recognition at commencement last year.”

 

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