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Our War: Belleville woman's life of helping military began in high school

Gloria Stumbaugh
Gloria Stumbaugh

With her can-do attitude, Gloria Stumbaugh didn't mind working 16-hour days when she was a teenager, laundering bed linens from Scott Air Force Base Hospital and inspecting cans to hold mortars.

The summer after her freshman year at East St. Louis Senior High School, Stumbaugh, then Gloria Banghart, lied about her age to get a job doing commercial laundry at St. Clair Laundry, 13th and St. Clair.

It was 1943 and "we needed a job," explained Stumbaugh, now 80.

She worked 3:30 p.m. to midnight weekdays and 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays. She earned 32 cents an hour.

Joined by a few friends, her mother and her friend's mother, Stumbaugh said she didn't mind being on her feet for hours at a time and suffering through the stifling summer heat without any air conditioning.

"We were young," she said. "We talked and we just had fun."

In the following summers, she worked at the Continental Can Co. from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. before heading back to the laundromat.

At Continental Can, where cans for syrups, lard, popcorn tins and more were made, she inspected the keys on cans that would be used to hold mortars.

"My job was to make sure there was sauder on the ends," she said.

It never occurred to her at the time to take one of the keys as a memento of the time and the hard work.

"I wish I'd swiped one of those, now," she said with a smile.

At the laundromat, there was a systematic approach to washing, shaking, drying and folding the all-white pillows, sheets and blankets. They were stacked high into piles of 10 before being packed onto trucks at the end of the evening.

"When they stacked up, they looked real nice, and we were proud of our work."

Although it was the middle of the night, Stumbaugh said she thought nothing of the 10-minute walk home.

Money was tight during the war, and some school events were canceled. Stumbaugh donated the $40 a week she cleared between the two jobs to her high school class. The money helped fund a senior prom, a yearbook and a class party.

"Present me with a challenge, and I'll do something," she said.

She graduated in 1946 and went on to Washington University, in St. Louis, to study physical education. She taught for 44 years in the St. Louis public school system before retiring.

In 1951, she married her husband, John. They had five children and 12 grandchildren.

In 2002, the Daughters of the American Revolution honored Stumbaugh, of Belleville, for being an outstanding volunteer for nearly 20 years. She helped transport veterans back and forth to doctors visits, walked in parades and gathered donations.

"I just do it because it just needs to be done," she said.

Contact reporter Maria Baran at mbaran@bnd.com or 239-2460.

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