By Dawn Wightman Perrault
Meet Stella Zanowick Chalanick served as first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943-46.
Chalanick served as a general duty nurse in World War II at Buckingham Army Airfield in Fort Myers, Florida. Lasting from 1939-45, it is the deadliest military conflict the world has ever seen; involving more than 30 countries.
I sat down with Chalanick in her retirement community, The Faatz-Crofut Home for the Elderly, in Auburn, for a conversation about her military and civilian life. She was at first pensive, full of smiles at times, eager to share. And, somehow even flipped the conversation around and started interviewing me.
She graduated from Auburn High School in 1939 and earned a registered nurse degree at Binghamton City Hospital in 1942. When asked why she entered the military, she replied, “The signs were everywhere in the country — they needed nurses.”
Chalanick enlisted in 1943 with her best friend from Binghamton City Hospital, Vivian (Vi) Hunt.
When asked why she chose the Army Air Corps, Chalanick said, “I didn’t choose them, they chose me. I was sent where I was needed.”
For her, the decision to become a nurse was not a difficult one. It was something she wanted to do her entire life. She watched her mother take care of her younger brother, Russell, and was drawn to the nurturing aspect of the role. And nurturing she did.
While at Fort Myers, the military built a station hospital exclusively for the Air Corps. She cared for the enlistees; some injured due to the war, some injured during training. She has no regrets about serving her country. If she had to do it over, she would do again.
She separated from the Army Air Corps at Maxwell Field, Alabama, on March 3, 1946. Her citations included an ATO Ribbon and Victory Medal WWII. She resumed her career at Mercy Hospital in Auburn, working as a nurse from 1946-64. Mercy Hospital is better known today as Loretto’s “The Commons on St. Anthony.”
Chalanick also got engaged to Andrew Chalanick in 1946, who was a machinist mate S, 3rd class Navy, until March of that year. They met in high school and wed in June 1947.
In 1964, she shifted gears slightly and worked as a social worker until 1986.
“It’s really the same role,” she explained. “Caring for people.”
She officially retired from the workforce at 65, but remained active in the church choir at Sts. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Church, as well as the Altar Rosary Society. She also volunteered with various veterans’ groups.
Aside from her rewarding nursing career and volunteer work, her life remains full. Stella and Andrew had three sons, Donald, Michael and Andrew William. She is blessed with four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Like her grandmother, Chalanick’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, has a fulfilling career as a traveling nurse. And Chalanick’s younger brother, Russell, he went on to become Dr. Russell Zanowick, a well-respected family physician.
Her husband died in 1960. Russell died in 2020.
Chalanick closed the conversation with some very insightful lifelong advice: “Think about what you want to do, what’s good for you, and do it.”
She will turn 102 on Dec. 23.