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Our Interview with Betty Scarna

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I grew up in Chicago, Ill., the same place where my parents met and grew up. I graduated from the Business College at the University of Chicago after taking night classes there for 2 1/2 years. While in school, I worked at Zurich Insurance Company on the third floor in my building for the Engineering Department. There, I filled out forms and mail, answered questions, and followed different insurance parties.

When I was just 23 years old, the FBI sought me out to come and work for them. Once they hired me, I underwent very strict training for a long time, all in the state of Illinois. When World War II began during the ‘40s, all eligible men enlisted or were drafted.  At that time, I was assigned as a policewoman at Sanderson and Partners Construction Corporation.  

Fuse and Booster buildings and hiring was now in full swing. People, mostly women, from all areas of the state went through medical examinations and were then hired.  Most of them came from off the farm. We, the policewomen of the FBI, were assigned to search them from head to toe once they were told to go down the hall and step up to the assembly line. We had to search them each time they came to the lounge, either from the bathroom or out to lunch. Anytime they left and came back for work it was the same routine – a very extensive process. The workers were not allowed to wear any possible spark-producing accessory such as jewelry or hairpins. They were very strict.  The job they had was filling bullets with gun powder.

We were also assigned to the Administration Building. We were tasked with searching and checking all IDs from any visitors, salesmen, or anyone coming in on business. Many were refused further entrance into the building.  Anyone coming in would have to be expected already. No one could be a random visitor. This procedure lasted as long or even longer than the war.

We had a number of suspicious men who would come into our building wanting to talk to our personnel or get information from our buyers for many different reasons.  Part of my job was to escort them out of the building, and we always had back-up officers nearby just in case. While there, I also escorted a number of celebrities and stars, including Connie Francis.

During the war, my husband was stationed in California.  I was able to spend about 10 days with him before he shipped out to Saipan.  From there I returned to Chicago, where I gave birth to our daughter. My Doris was born in 1945. The war ended in November of that year, and when my husband came home he would just hold her for hours and never want to leave her side. I was still working with the FBI at this time because I needed the work, so my mother would watch Doris. 

Eventually I took a lot of time off from work to spend time with my daughter as she was growing up, but still stayed in touch with the FBI.  After Doris grew up and was married, I went back to work full time for them.  I worked many years after that until I retired at the age of 62. 

Today, I am the oldest living retired woman FBI agent. I have lived a lovely life, and God has blessed me so much. My whole family is deceased now, but still I have my daughter and son-in-law.  After I retired I moved to Florida for a few years, but eventually moved here to Michigan to be close to them.  I am in Assisted Living now here at Waltonwood of Royal Oak.  Everything has been wonderful, and I am treated very well here.  For the most part, I am still able to do a lot on my own. It is hard to believe that I will be turning 100 years old this July! I can’t ask for much better.

My advice for women today would be to follow your dreams and work hard.  Work for what you want and need in life and take good care of everything you work for.

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