Dozens of people with handfuls of confetti quietly crowded into the front room of Elinor Otto’s family home, waiting to surprise the birthday girl.
The Boeing "Rosie the Riveter," who turned 94 on Monday, stepped through the door, open-mouthed, to choruses of “Surprise!” and “Happy birthday!” as loved ones feted her at a weekend party in Long Beach. Lt. Col. Bob Friend, a 93-year-old Tuskegee Airman, presented Otto with a rose corsage as she pointed to familiar faces shouting, “Oh! You! You!”
For several weeks Otto, profiled by The Times in September, has been on a whirlwind tour of talk shows. TV crews turned her living room into a studio, and she flew to New York for “The Today Show” and “Ellen.” Otto picked up a riveting gun in World War II, joining the wave of women taking what had been men's jobs. These days she still works for Boeing, helping to build the C-17 at the company's Long Beach plant.
For weeks, grandson John Perry and his fiancee Tonya DeRush hid in the garage to make calls planning the surprise – to Otto’s cries of “Well, why don’t you just live out there!” they laughed. Family, friends and some who had only recently met Otto at speaking events and through media coverage gathered Saturday to honor the great-grandmother they called sweet and inspiring.
A teary-eyed Otto laughed when she saw the cake – her face photoshopped onto the iconic “We Can Do It” poster – and bashfully posed for photos with everyone who attended. A group of a dozen Rosies from across the country conference called to wish the Spirit of '45 Day spokeswoman a happy birthday.
Otto, who said she plans on retiring with the Long Beach plant in 2015, said she never expected so much recognition for what she and other women believed was their duty during the war. But the speaking engagements and people she’s met have given her new life, she said.