History of the Museum
History of the National WASP WWII Museum
- The National WASP WWII Museum began in 2002 with the vision of two women, WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish and her daughter, Nancy Parrish. They believed that the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots should be showcased at Avenger Field on the grounds where most of the WASP trained during World War II.
- Sweetwater community leaders learned about the vision for the Museum during a presentation at a meeting in the fall of 2002. On December 9th of that year, a steering committee met for the first time to investigate the Museum’s feasibility. Officers for the steering committee were elected at that time.
- Incorporation documents were presented to the steering committee in January 2003, and the Museum was incorporated in the state of Texas in July 2003. The Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce supported the Museum both financially and with key leadership.
- In September 2003 the Museum Board of Directors leased 55 acres of land at Avenger Field from the City of Sweetwater. The two hundred-year lease included the land as well as a hangar that had been built in 1929 to serve as the first Sweetwater Municipal Airport.
- In 2004 the Board of Directors recruited new members to support the Museum, developed a master plan around architectural drawings, mailed the first official newsletters, and continued to seek funds to build a nationally recognized memorial to the WASP.
- Renovations to the hangar began in early 2005 culminating in the first National WASP WWII Museum Fly-In. Local, state, and national volunteers worked long hours in order to open the Museum in May 2005. The outside of the hangar was painted, and the inside of the hangar was fully renovated to house the exhibits.
- A grand opening was held on May 28, the same day that the first class of WASP graduated 62 years earlier. To signify the opening of the Museum, United States, Texas, and WASP flags were raised for the first time on the 3 donated flag poles in front of the museum. Donated flags from the fifty states and two foreign countries representing the origins of the WASP were hung inside the Museum. Twenty-nine WASP attended the inaugural event and placed their handprints in cement to commemorate their presence. A bronze statue entitled “The Graduate,” created by former instructor and WASP Dot Swain Lewis and donated by the WASP, was also unveiled.
- In 2006 the Museum grew with new members, monetary donations as well as donations of historical artifacts, new exhibits, and the advent of the first Homecoming at Hangar One, now held annually, on Memorial Day weekend. The highlight of the first Homecoming was the opening of the exhibit depicting a bay, the living quarters of the WASP while they were in training.
- As membership and interest in the museum grew, directors hired an executive director in 2007. In 2008 the Museum began to register the extensive collection, to find new marketing and fundraising avenues, to increase membership, and to build new exhibits.
- As a continually evolving project, the Museum has grown each year: 2009 saw the addition of a PT-19 display and 2010 improvements included an exhibit featuring Jacqueline Cochran memorabilia. Greater national interest, addition of new historical artifacts, and increasing excitement for the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II enable the Museum to continue moving toward achieving its goals.
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