Obituary: Nancy Murrin / One of first female Marines; longtime volunteer, librarian

Jan. 25, 1918 - Oct. 23, 2013

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They were the few. The proud. The first 19 members of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.

And Nancy Murrin was one of them.

Just a few years after representing Carnegie Tech as the "Campus Queen" in the Sugar Bowl, Ms. Murrin was tapped in February 1943 to join the Marine Corps Women's Reserve, a unit so new that she sewed her own uniform.

She recruited for the Marines in Detroit and helped integrate returning Marines into the workforce for a unit in Philadelphia, doing the jobs of men who were needed in combat.

"She retired with the rank of major," said her daughter, Ann Lascuola of Butler. "But they never gave women their medals or anything like that. They were in a hurry to get them back home -- the guys were coming back."

Ms. Murrin, of Butler, died Wednesday at age 95.

The daughter of a surgeon, she grew up in Highland Park as Nancy McKenna, graduating from Sacred Heart Catholic School and Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University. While in college, she was awarded the top honor for a woman -- "Campus Queen" -- in the year that the Tartans football team would play in its only bowl game.

Accompanied by her parents as chaperones, Ms. Murrin took the train to New Orleans for the 1939 Sugar Bowl. She went to fancy lunches and gala balls.

"It was the first and last time she wore a strapless dress -- she thought that was shocking," her daughter said. "She said it was a whirlwind experience, being on display."

She later donated her memorabilia from the Sugar Bowl -- Carnegie Mellon lost -- to the university, which held an exhibit of mementos such as the game program. Ms. Murrin's story was featured in an article in a Carnegie Mellon magazine.

After graduation, Ms. Murrin worked as a secretary and an interviewer for U.S. Steel and Carnegie-Illinois Steel until she volunteered for the WAVES --Women Accepted for Volunteer Service -- branch of the U.S. Navy in 1943.

From there, she was plucked for the Marines, where she served until the men returned from the war in 1946. She did eventually receive her medals, her daughter said, in a ceremony in the early 2000s. She also donated Marine memorabilia to the Women in Military Service in America Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Back at U.S. Steel after the war, she was introduced to John Murrin, whom she married three years later. She threw herself into homemaking and volunteerism in Butler, where her husband worked as an attorney.

"She volunteered for everything," her daughter said. "She volunteered at the hospital for over 59 years, for Meals on Wheels, at the Veterans Administration, at our church. She was a trustee for the Butler County Community College for over 20 years."

Ms. Murrin received an award from Butler Memorial Hospital for having the longest continuous volunteer service, her daughter said. When her eyesight failed due to macular degeneration and volunteering at the hospital became difficult, she began -- at age 92 -- volunteering to fold laundry for a hospice instead.

After raising her two children through grade school, she went back to school in her 50s for a master's degree in library science from the University of Pittsburgh -- a move that was fairly unusual at that time for a woman of her age. She later worked as the librarian for St. Fidelis Seminary and as interim librarian for the Butler Area Public Library.

"She was regal -- in stature, in personality," said Evelyn Murrin of Point Breeze, her sister-in-law and longtime friend. "She was really able to use her intellect and that sense of service."

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Murrin is survived by a sister, Clementine Schofield of Annapolis, Md., five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by a son, Thomas.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. today at Geibel Funeral Home in Butler. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Peter Catholic Church in Butler.

Memorial contributions can be sent to the Butler Area Public Library or the Butler Meals on Wheels.


Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.

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