Everything that Scottie Lingelbach has done in her life — from her World War II service to her years of volunteering in Lawrence and at Kansas University — she traces back to her junior high school’s motto.
“Enter to learn, go forth to serve” was drilled into her as a young student at the former Boswell Junior High School in Topeka.
“That really impressed me at that age, and that has been a guiding thing to me throughout my life,” she says, noting she’s often been asked to speak to community groups and at schools. “I always bring that up.”
In March, from her home in northern Lawrence, Lingelbach remembered leaving Watson Library on a fateful Sunday — Dec. 7, 1941 — and learning of the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“All of us knew our lives would never be the same again,” said Lingelbach, who turned 90 on Easter Sunday. “It’s the kind of day in history you always remember what you were doing.”
For her, it changed her course from college student seeking a job in the business world on the heels of the Great Depression to joining the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, where she handled secret information for members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington during the war. Her choice to be active in the military surprised friends and family members, but Lingelbach said she was also drawn to the WAVES because it required a college degree to enter officer’s training.
“The fact that my parents had sent me to school, I felt they would appreciate it if I used that degree someplace,” she said. “That was part of what sent me that way, and I never regretted that. I am loyal to the Navy to this day.”
Lingelbach moved back to Lawrence in the 1980s, several years after her husband, Dale Lingelbach, an Army lieutenant and paratrooper who was wounded outside St. Lo, France, in 1944, died in 1967 from skin cancer. They were longtime residents of Carthage, Mo.
They originally met at KU.
For several years she has worked to give back and volunteer for causes she was passionate about. In Missouri, Lingelbach was a volunteer and served on several boards, including with the American Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Club. She headed the Cancer Crusade at Carthage and later became a member of the Jasper County Cancer Board.
When she moved to Lawrence, she turned much of her attention toward helping KU by assisting on several boards, including the Greater KU Fund board at one time and the Fine Arts advisory board, and was a docent at the Spencer Museum of Art. She has volunteered at other community agencies, like Family Promise, which assists homeless families.
She still drives, even though she was briefly sidelined for treatment to an eye. During that time, many friends whom she has helped around town often pitched in and drove her to doctor’s appointments in Kansas City.
“It has resulted in some wonderful experiences for me,” she said. “I have met wonderful people, and that’s been very exciting.”
Lingelbach is also a frequent fixture at the Dole Institute of Politics. Her friendships with some famous people have helped the institute land some key guest speakers, including Tom Brokaw — whose book “The Greatest Generation” was about the people who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II and went on to build modern America — and Gen. Richard Myers, a retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dole Institute Director Bill Lacy said amid all of her accomplishments and connections, Lingelbach takes a regular interest in events at KU and the institute. “One of the things that’s inspiring about Scottie is that she’s done her service. She did it many years ago, and she’s never really stopped,” Lacy said. “She’s absolutely dedicated to the university. She’s everything KU. She’s a delightful ambassador not just for the Dole Institute but for the university.
“To do that throughout her life as opposed to kind of doing your part early on, that’s the hallmark of the ‘greatest generation.’”
Myers, the retired Air Force general who graduated from Shawnee Mission North High School and Kansas State University, said Lingelbach’s personality tends to attract almost anyone she meets.
“She has a zest for life. She’s positive. She’s not gloom and doom,” he said. “She’s got a zest for it. People like to be around people like that.”
Myers said he admires Lingelbach’s story of volunteering for the Navy.
“They all looked at World War II as their duty, and nobody was griping,” he said. “Nobody was griping. The volunteering got going right away, and the outcome was far from clear in those days. It was the courage to do something that not many have done and the sacrifice that she was willing to make.”
She’s also an avid KU basketball fan, and for years has been a fixture at seeing the team off at Allen Fieldhouse before NCAA Tournament road trips. Before the Jayhawks left for New Orleans last month, Lingelbach put on a crimson and blue outfit complete with Jayhawk earrings to meet coach Bill Self and the players at the fieldhouse with other fans.
“Scottie is a true Jayhawk,” Self said. “She is loyal, fun and a true friend. Scottie always lifts me up every time I see her.”
For years at those sendoffs, she also brightened up Self’s predecessor, Roy Williams. A photo of Williams and Lingelbach made it into Brokaw’s book.
“She had a tremendous love for the University of Kansas and our basketball team,” said Williams, who left KU for North Carolina in 2003. “There was never a doubt in my mind that I had her unconditional support and I loved seeing her smile when she talked about how much enjoyment the basketball team brought to her. She is a loyal Jayhawk and will always be a superstar.”
To Lingelbach, service has greatly enriched her life. “I would never have never dreamed that when I was serving” in the Navy, she said.
In Washington, she handled top secret documents about the Allies’ most important military plans. The aides would often read the papers that they hand-cranked off a mimeograph machine, so she knew about D-Day before any soldiers stormed Omaha Beach.
She delivered papers to the White House almost daily, but there was code, so to say, that she couldn’t quite crack.
“The big secret was the ‘Manhattan Project.’ We kept seeing the code word come through,” she said. “That was one of the few that you didn’t know what that meant. And you could tell that it must be something awfully important based on the context and where it was being used.”
Finally one day she heard the call “now hear this, now hear this” over the loudspeaker, and they announced the first ever atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
“I thought ‘aha, that was the ‘Manhattan Project,’” she said. “I had been reading these papers. If we had to invade Japan, they were estimating there were going to be maybe 1 million casualties when you took both sides because they felt the Japanese would fight to the last person.”
It took a second bombing before the Japanese surrendered.
Those days are long gone, but Lingelbach said she took all of those life lessons — including the motto at her junior high school — with her into the rest of her life. “Most of us feel we’d like to think we gave something back on this earth in the way of volunteer service of some kind or another,” she said. “It probably does more for you than it does the community. I certainly was a beneficiary of both ends.”