County native was pioneer in aviation

Many years ago, I became custodian of an old handkerchief box containing obituaries and family information about the Charles and Gertrude Clark St. Pierre family. It had been kept by Miss Genevieve Capps, and passed on by Mary Joyce Capps.

I had heard of the St. Pierre family the St. Pierre corner south of Bayle City being notorious as a dangerous intersection. The family came to this area before the Civil War. Edmond St. Pierre was born in Canada, and his wife, Catharine LaGarce, was born in Versailles, France.

Charles Edmond St. Pierre was born on his family homeplace in 1857. He married in 1887 to Gertrude Clark, the only child of Horatio and Vianna Wesner Clark.

Without the clippings in the handkerchief box, I would not have known about Charles and Gertrudes daughter, June Ruth St. Pierre, who was born on June 27, 1899, near Bayle City in South Hurricane Township.

June was one of five daughters, and her sisters included Gladys, Blanche, Mae and Elsie.

The sisters all married Gladys to Archie Little; Blanche to Frank Harnetiaux; Mae to Al Yarowsky and Elsie to Lawrence Lape. June married first to Robert Jones, and after his death in 1948, she married Lavern Cooper. He also preceded her in death.

Junes parents moved to Vandalia when she was a child. Her father, Charles, built the house at 329 N. Fifth St. and served as Fayette County sheriff. Her mother was involved in local groups, including the Vandalia Historical Society and Vandalia Womans Club.

June was living with her parents when the United States was drawn into World War I. At that time, the part of women in the war effort was restricted.

At a local level, they could join the American Red Cross and participate in the knitting department, making sweaters, wristlets and socks for the soldiers, put together ‘comfort packets’ for Fayette County men heading overseas, furnish clothing for Belgian relief or become a nurse.

Junes mother, Gertrude, along with Mrs. F. T. Denny and Mrs. Charles S. Stout, was on the committee for Belgian relief, and gathered over a ton of clothing for overseas distribution within the first week of organization.

Gertrude St. Pierre was remembered by Mary Burtschi as one of the earliest Vandalia women to operate a car. Taking after her mother, June was a woman ‘ahead of her time;’ or rather, the times werent ready for women who wished to do more than knit.

One of the clippings in the box was from the Feb. 14, 1918, issue of The Vandalia Union newspaper. It revealed that Vandalia was represented in the Womans Aviation Home Guards by Miss June St. Pierre of 329 N. Fifth St. At the time, she was considered one of the best lady drivers in Fayette County.

Stationed at Washington Park Field in St. Louis, June worked her way up to being named as the uniformed instructor of a class teaching automobile driving. It was believed that driving a car was essential to becoming an aviator.

June was provided with a Daniels Eight touring car for her driving instruction. The Davie Motor Co. made the first car available to the St. Louis training facility, and it averaged a whopping 13.5 miles per gallon.

The custom-built bodies sported a split two-visor windshield. The seats were made of leather, and the car came with open or closed top.

With the car came Davie Motor Co. salesman, S. Robert ‘Bob’ Jones, who was an early instructor on its operation, and one of the company’s top salesmen. Within a very few months, the two instructors, June and Bob, were married.

Captain John Berry of Chicago, a fighter pilot, was flight instructor for the St. Louis unit of the Home Guard, and was Junes cockpit trainer.

Without the old handkerchief box full of clippings, we would not know about June St. Pierre and her aspirations. By her calling card, we know that she graduated from motor cars to airplanes, and her dreams of becoming an aviatrix were realized.

June St. Pierre Jones Cooper died on May 25, 1976, in Ottumwa, Iowa, with burial in Fairlawn Cemetery in Vandalia, beside her first husband. No mention was made in her obituary about her training and service during World War I.

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