On Sept. 2, 1945, World War II ended with a formal surrender by Japan. On that same momentous day, in Solomons, Md., Velma Jean began dating Mervin Gunselman (known as Gus to friends and family). She was a Naval nurse, and he was a Naval engineer. For the U.S. and the rest of the world, and most especially for Velma and Gus, the day was known as V-J Day. Velma, now 100, was born in a small town in western Pennsylvania on Sept. 5, 1918. She often visited her grandparents' farm out in the country and picked up an affinity for helping others that led her to take up a nursing education. “She had a wonderful small-town experience,” her daughter, Jeannie Munson, says. She attended the West Penn Hospital School of Nursing. There, she considered taking her talents to the skies and working as a stewardess. It was a new line of work for young women in America, and Velma had her sights set on this adventure. In 1942, however, Carole Lombard, a famous actress at the time, died in a plane crash. Her father was upset enough about the tragedy that he did not want Velma to become a stewardess, and so she began working at the Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh before enlisting in the U.S. Navy.
Her military service took her to a small fishing village on the Patuxent River in Maryland, where she met Gus. They were friends at first, and then V-J Day came along and changed their course through life forever. During Gus's own service in the U.S. Navy, he was transferred to Panama City, Florida. When Velma came to visit him once, he proposed—and she said yes. The couple went on to settle in Erie, Pa., close to Velma's home and the site of a GE locomotive manufacturing plant. Three children came along: John, Mary Ann and Jeannie, and the family lived out a joyous life along Lake Erie. “Our house was spotless, and she was very meticulous,” Jeannie says. “She liked taking care of people. And she liked learning. She thought education was extremely important. That was a big deal for her.”
In Erie, Gus took up golf. Velma quickly realized that she'd be home alone quite a bit if she didn't join him, so she began playing the game too. Together, they were a fixture on their local course. She really enjoyed golf, and she often played bridge as well. As the children grew up, Velma continued to work as a nurse for a local doctor in Erie. Even later on, after she'd retired, she returned to work as a nurse for a group of cardiologists in town. It was the great passion of her life, and her experience as a nurse was a constant backdrop in the Gunselman household. When Jeannie or one of her siblings was injured or sick, Velma would step up. She had dealt with plenty of terrible cases in the U.S. Navy, and she approached scraped knees with the same level of care and diligence. “My father could not stand the sight of blood, and my mother would just jump in—nothing bothers her,” Jeannie says. “When my mother had to go to the hospital [when she was sick], one time my father ended up on the bed next to her after he fainted.” Both Gus and Velma grew up poor, and so they took great pride in their lines of work. Gus was the more outgoing of the two—the family called him “the social director;" Velma was more reserved, more practical. After Gus died in 1995, Velma started to become more social and independent.
Not long ago, however, she lost her sight and had to give up her bridge games and her reading. Her sense of humor remains intact, and she's still interested in the nursing world. “She loved nursing,” Jeannie says. “Even now, at 100, … if somebody mentions anything that's medical, her mind just snaps to. She just had a real gift for it.”