World War II pilot preserved in downtown Rockford mural

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ROCKFORD (WREX) – A stroll through downtown Rockford is now met with several murals illustrating important pieces of the city’s identity.

One of these can be found on the east side of the state street bridge, showing the smiling face of Libby Gardner.

Gardner was a Rockford native, graduating from Rockford High School in 1939.

She’s also one of 1,100 women that flew as an Air Force service pilot in World War II.

Her likeness is now forever linked to downtown Rockford.

Thanks to support from the city, including Collins Aerospace, one of leaders in aviation and aerospace.

“It really represents, I believe, a beacon of light for the Rockford community,” said Judy Bridgeman, the Executive Director of Engineering Products at Collins Aerospace,

“After we heard about her story and were aware of her story and her desire to fly as part of our government and serving our armed forces, we thought there was a great parallel between what we do at Collins Aerospace.”

Collins Aerospace sponsored the mural, seeing it as a symbol of greatness for the community and achievement for women in aviation.

A product of this progress is Kimmy Callan, a mechanical engineer with Collins Aerospace.

Working in aviation was a dream of Callan’s dating back to her early childhood.

“My parents love to tell the story of watching an old family Christmas video where I received a plastic airplane and I look straight at the video and told them I wanted to fly my own airplane someday,” said Callan.

That wish became a reality as Callan earned her pilot’s license when she turned 18.

It’s an accomplishment she thanks Gardner, along with all women, for breaking down barriers for her to pursue her dreams.

“It’s really inspiring that there were so many people who were willing to forge that path and right here is an example of that and it’s inspiring for me as well,” said Callan.

“The fact that this mural is going to be in such a central place in Rockford, it’s going to be inspirational for a lot of girls and a lot of young women.”

Libby passed away in 2011 at the age of 90.

However, her memory lives on in the mural on State St across from the City Market Pavillion.

INSPIRING 815 LIBBY GARDNER
Evan Leake

Evan Leake

Multi-Media Journalist

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