SOUTH BEND -- A South Bend woman and her family have a strong connection to the Tuskegee Airmen who have been recognized particularly this February during Black History Month in the movie "Red Tails."
Evelyn Baugh and her sister, the late Agnes Virginia (Sanders) Stevens, were raised on Bendix Street in South Bend.
"Aggie" as she was called by her family, graduated from Washington High School and Provident Hospital School of Nursing, Baugh said.
No nursing school in South Bend would take her because she was black, so she moved to Chicago and entered Provident Hospital School of Nursing. After graduating and becoming a nurse, Stevens married a man she called a "Renaissance man." He was Albert Stevens, and he would eventually become one of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Albert and Aggie met in 1943 when he was a student pilot in the War Training Service program, a preparatory course for the U.S. Army Air Corps.
The two were smitten with each other, and Albert arranged to take Aggie on her first plane ride, Baugh recalled.
"Albert proposed to his bride flying though the Chicago skies," she said.
Aggie and Albert married in 1946. She and Albert were married 50 years until his death in 1996. Aggie died on Dec. 27 of last year, her sister said.
Their only daughter, Angela Stevens Jones, of Chicago, said her father
never really talked about the war, but he was eager to fly.
Albert was one of the 996 men trained as the first black aviators in the United States armed forces.
"He would rather talk about flying. He joined in 1942 because he had been interested in flying long before he joined the service," Jones said of her father.
He began student training and earned his civilian pilot license at the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago, Jones said. While in the service he also trained at Tyndall Field in Florida, Nanier Field in Alabama and did his AAF pilot training at the Tuskegee Army Air Base.
Albert was in active service from 1944 to 1946.
"Like many of the veterans, he didn't talk much about his time," Jones said in an e-mail. "I know he loved his country, but he was keenly aware of the fact that America wasn't necessarily kind to returning African- American veterans."
Albert eventually worked as an architect with the Chicago Board of Education.
Jones said her father was most proud of the fact that after the war he and some of his buddies joined a civilian club for retired Tuskegee Airmen.
They called themselves the Chicago DODO chapter, named after the dodo bird. The Chicago-area original Tuskegee Airmen DODO Chapter is a charitable organization whose mission is to perpetuate the historic legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and to encourage and assist minority youth in pursuing postsecondary education and careers in the aerospace industry, according to Jones.
"My father and five of his friends from the Chicago DODO were former 'bird men' who kept their flying skills honed by renting small aircraft and flying themselves and their spouses around the country," she said.
"He told me of the time the six of them (her parents and two couples) landed the private plane on Hugh Hefner's airstrip in Wisconsin and how I should have seen the look on everyone's faces when the six well-dressed black folks got off the plane with my father as the pilot. They had a reservation for a weekend stay at the (Hefner's) exclusive club."
Family members in South Bend like Baugh still have fond memories of Albert and Aggie.
John Sanders, of South Bend, the owner of Sanco Distributing Inc., remembers visiting his uncle and aunt in their Chicago home.
"The thing I remember the most about my aunt and uncle is as a child we would go visit them in Chicago with my four siblings and parents and they had a color television in the wall of their home back in the '60s, when most homes had black and white," Sanders said.
"They also took me and my older brother Ronnie (who passed away a couple years ago) on our very first vacation to Goggle Lake in Minnesota, and we went fishing.
"I did not know my uncle was a Tuskegee Airmen until last Saturday, but I was not surprised because there was always something different about him. He was tough and proud."
Staff writer May Lee Johnson: