Ethel Meyer Finley died Feb. 24, 2006, at the home of her daughter in Forked River, N.J. She was 85.
Mrs. Finley, who was born in Lake City, Minn., lived on a farm near there until graduating from high school in 1937. She earned a bachelor's degree in science, mathematics and physical education from Winona State Teacher College, and she was the first woman at the school to participate in the Civilian Pilot Training program, training with renowned aviator Max Conrad. She taught school for a year before she learned she could not earn a living and have enough left to fly planes, so she went to work operating the Link trainer at the airport in exchange for flying time.
In March 1943, she entered the U.S. Army as a member of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. She was one of about 1,000 women who were the first to serve as U.S. military aviators. She trained military pilots and logged more than 1,000 hours of flight time before the WASPs were disbanded in December 1944.
While in the Army, she met James A. Finley Jr., from Media, Pa., and Odessa, Del., and they were married in December 1944.
She left aviation to raise a family and lived in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before settling in Summit, N.J., in 1952.
They lived there for 30 years, and she became active in women's affairs by starting halfway houses for women recovering from substance abuse.
After moving to Rehoboth Beach, Del., Mrs. Finley again became active with the WASP organization. She served in a variety of positions and continued to travel to national air shows and events throughout the country telling the story of the women aviators and encouraging women to follow their dreams. She was president of the organization from 1992 to1994, during which time Congress granted the women veteran's status.
She received the Delaware Trailblazer Award in 1995 and was named to the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001. She was a member of the Board of Directors of Wright Flight Youth Program in Tucson, Ariz., and served on the Dover Air Mobility Museum Foundation Board. For seven years through 2005, she organized WASP activities at the Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In in Osh Kosh, Wis., and the national Sun and Fun Air Show in Lakeland, Fla.
In Delaware, Mrs. Finley remained active in women's affairs, serving on the Delaware Commission for Women and helping to establish Tau House and Houston Hall in Georgetown.
She is survived by her sister, Ione Olson of Minnesota; her children, Janet Finley of Steamboat Springs, Michael J. Finley of Odessa, Del., and Joanne Marine of Forked River, N.J.; four grandchildren; and two great granddaughters.
Services were held at St. Edmonds Roman Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on March 3, 2006, with a following reception. Interment was held in Old Drewyers Cemetery in Odessa, Del.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the WASP Endowment Fund, Texas Women's University at P.O. Box 425528, Denton, TX 76204 or to The Shrine of St. Joseph at 1050 Long Hill Road, Stirling, N.J. 07980.