Former Faribault Heritage Days Parade Grand Marshall and Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame inductee Elizabeth "Betty Wall" Strofus passed away Sunday at age 96.

She passed away at Milestone Senior Living in Faribault with family at her side.

Liz was one of my favorite people. She always made me feel special. She had a way of doing that with everyone, I think.

So full of energy even in her advanced years, she spoke at high schools and colleges across the nation about her time as a Women's Air Force Service (WASP) pilot during World War II.

I was the there when she was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame and can tell you she had the place roaring with laughter.

I was usually greeted by her with a kiss on the cheek, and she always had that amazing smile.

Last year during the Rice County Historical Society Banquet, which I was honored to emcee, I bid on a very nice picture of Liz standing by one of the planes she flew. It was on the silent auction and I was lucky enough to have the highest bid. The plan was to get her to autograph the photo for me and as usual I did not get to MIlestone to have her do that.

96 years is a great life.

I am sad for me, not her, because I know she is in a better place, but I will miss the peck on the cheek, smile and quite often wink that would accompany her greeting for me.

Liz flew the B-17, B-26, P-39, AT-6 and F-16. She trained at the Las Vegas Gunnery School in 1943 and flew and towed targets. Liz served from 1943 until the WASP program was disbanded in December 1944.

The federal government did not recognize the women as veterans until more than 35 years later when Strohfus' lobbying efforts plateaued.

The WASPs received active military service status with the passage of a federal law in 1977.

In 2009, Liz received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award for civilians.

Thirty-eight WASPS lost their lives while flying. When WASPS died, the military refused to pay to send their bodies home, or provide a military funeral. Instead the women took up collections for the families to cover costs.

Liz told me once about how heartbroken she was after the war. She went to Northwest Airlines in hopes of becoming a pilot and said they didn't want a female pilot. She told me they were impressed with her flying credentials but offered her a job in the front office and she "told 'em what they could do with their front office."

At 72 years young, Liz co-piloted an F-16 over Duluth. The pilot let her take over the controls during the flight and she told me it was an "amazing" experience.

God must need a pilot in heaven, and someday I hope to fly with you, Liz Strohfus.

Elizabeth Strohfus speaking on opening night of Heritage Days