By Deb Sutton, Rock Springs Rocket Miner
ROCK SPRINGS — Dora Lopez stood near her husband at the clerk’s window at the shipyards. Paying his union dues was one of several errands the couple tasked themselves with that day in Portland, Ore.
She wasn’t paying much attention until the union clerk spoke to her.
“Are you working?” he asked Dora, who shook her head. “Do you want to work?”
It was part of the United States War Production Co-Ordinating Committee’s “We Can Do It” campaign. Rosie the Riveter would become the campaign’s star.
The union clerk told Dora the shipyard crews needed welders and burners.
“I told him I didn’t know how to weld,” Dora said. “He said ‘we’ll take you down to the shop and teach you.’ I had never worked until then.”
It was 1942. Dora was 22 years old. Her husband, Willie, couldn’t enlist for World War II military duty due to a health condition. He was already working in the shipyards when she accepted the job offer.
“They didn’t work in the same shipyards,” said her son, John Lopez, 81. “She would weld on the parts in line. Dad would hang in the air painting the ships and tankers, and she was welding them.”
“And you know what happened when the war was over?” Dora asked. “They had layoffs.
“And you know who they laid off first?” she asked, pointing at her chest with her thumb. “The women.”
It’s one of many memories her sharp mind holds. Good health, a love of people, and her gift of storytelling has served her well.
What’s the secret to living more than a century?
“I don’t know,” Dora said. “I woke up one morning and I was 101. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I used to drink a lot of coffee. I stay active. I get up whenever I want.”
Dora admits she has given little thought to health pandemics throughout the years, including the flu pandemic that was still hanging on in larger U.S. cities when she was born on Jan. 16, 1920, in San Antonio, Texas.
So far, she’s 7-0 for surviving some of the major health pandemics declared by the World Health Organization during her lifetime.
Even so, she couldn’t tell you when the U.S. was caught up in a flu pandemic, an epidemic or a serious outbreak. The COVID-19 disease is different. At 101, she decided it would be best to stop by a recent Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County clinic with other area residents who are 70 and older and roll up her sleeve.
“I figured if (the vaccine) is going to help you, I’m going to give it a try,” Dora said.
“The vaccines didn’t hurt at all,” she said. “My arm was a little sore, but that was it. I was told to keep my arm moving, and I did.”
Raising three boys and three girls, and working at a variety of jobs for five decades, Dora has had no trouble staying active.
The family moved from Portland to Superior in 1945 when Willie got a job with a coal mine. They lived there until their move to Rock Springs in 1956.
Armed with a formal education through the eighth grade, she took night classes here and there. She loves learning. Her rich work history includes waiting tables, cleaning rooms at the El Rancho Motel, serving as bakery manager at City Market, and working for more than a decade as office manager for the area’s original sexual assault task force, what is now the YWCA Center for Families and Children. She retired from the last job at around age 70.
“I did everything,” Dora said. “I did the filing. I did the cleaning. I was in charge of the girls’ files we had locked up in a cabinet. I did it all.”
John said he can attest to that. “If anyone in town needed anything they would ask his mom,” he said.
“Someone needed a birthday cake? My mom would make it,” he said. “She took care of everyone.”
Up until the last few months, Dora also has taken care of herself. She has lived alone in her Rock Springs home for the past 17 years. She takes two medications and occasionally uses a cane.
A recent neck injury means she now needs some help.
“They gave me an ultimatum. I could either go to a home or hire someone to come in and stay with me,” Dora said. “I said I didn’t like either one of those ideas. I want to go live with Johnny and (his wife) Hilda in St. George.”
Those words bring a big smile to John’s face.
“Now, we can take care of her,” he said. “She did everything for everyone. She did it all.”
In fact, in the task force office one day many years ago, someone lamented over all they had to do at their own office, John recalled. “‘You need to get yourself a Dora,’ the director told them.”