ALAMEDA -- Marilyn York was remembered Saturday as both a groundbreaking woman who helped make the Alameda Naval Air Station fly, and as the tenacious curator of its legacy.
York was 90 when she died in her San Lorenzo home Oct. 4.
"Most people who live in Alameda today don't understand the role this facility played at a time when the world was at risk," said Kim Robles, president of the board directors for the Alameda Naval Air Museum, which owes its existence to the tireless efforts of York and her longtime friend Barbara Baack. "She never thought about why something can't happen. She was always about 'How can we make this happen?' Marilyn was an amazing example of the greatest generation."
Saturday's memorial service was held in the museum's Crows Nest lounge on the decommissioned base. The room is a veritable time capsule, with 1940s-era posters, photos and plaques. Saturday it was graced by a large poster featuring two women in dress Navy whites and bearing the declaration, "The Navy needs you in the WAVES" -- fitting in that York was in the first class of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service inducted during World War II.
A Santa Cruz native, York was sent to New York's Hunter College for boot camp, then to Norman, Okla., for training as an aircraft engine mechanic. She was assigned to Alameda Naval Air Station, where she worked on aircraft during the war and for 33 years afterward, rising to the status of journeyman.
"She was one of very few (women) who became a journeyman," noted Baack, a former public affairs specialist who got to know York after photographing her receiving an award from the base's commanding officer.
After York's retirement, she and Baack put their combined energies into documenting the air station's history. Alameda City Councilman Doug deHaan, who worked in several capacities at Alameda Naval Air Station, recalls the two women regularly attending council meetings as they were trying to get their museum off the ground.
"Marilyn looked at you in a motherly way and was so kind and nice," he said. "But that sweet young lady knew what she wanted at all times."
Museum curator Larry Pirack said York and Baack "had one desire -- to see their museum become a success."
They succeeded to the point that walking into the museum almost feels like walking onto a movie set. A black-and-white 8-by-10 photo of Franklin Roosevelt hangs on a wall. There are aerial photos of jets soaring above the base and paintings of mighty Navy vessels plowing through San Francisco Bay. A framed telegram, cabled shortly after the end of the war, advises that Japan's surrender means "that USO work for the men and women in the armed services ... enters a new phase."
There is a ready room for showing films, and several display cases full of model ships and planes. One room is dedicated to a mock-up of a ship's sick bay. There are vintage uniforms, old newspapers and a console radio that may well have broadcast the exciting adventures of Red Ryder once upon a time.
Black said that York sold more than $1 million in war bonds. "She was an outstanding fundraiser in later years for the United Crusade," Baack added. "You can say she devoted her life to public service. She never knew a stranger. She could converse with anyone."
When Baack concluded her remarks, she put a harmonica to her lips and, slowly and tenderly, honored her friend with a song: "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.