Auburn's first female pharmacy alumna receives Congressional Gold Medal

Published: December 11, 2014
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AUBURN UNIVERISTY – Bobelle Sconiers Harrell, the first woman admitted to the School of Pharmacy at what is now Auburn University, was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 10.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner led the ceremony in Statuary Hall to honor members of the Civil Air Patrol who served during World War II.

Bobelle, a native of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, joined the Civil Air Patrol not long after graduating in 1944 at the top of her class from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, as Auburn University was then known. She also graduated with Phi Kappa Phi and Cardinal Key honors.

Bobelle became one of the first women licensed to practice pharmacy in Florida. She was also licensed in Alabama. In 1945, she received a pilot's license and was trained to fly missions with the Civil Air Patrol.

The Civil Air Patrol was formed six days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Since then, it has responded when called on, including in natural disasters such as Mount St. Helen's eruption and the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. It also responded after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Boehner called the Civil Air Patrol members "private citizens who wanted to lend a hand."

"Today's Gold Medal may be long overdue, but it's well deserved," said U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "It's the highest civilian honor we can bestow and we are all blessed to help bestow it."

A number of notable individuals have received the Congressional Gold Medal since George Washington in 1776. Recipients have included entertainers Bob Hope, Walt Disney and Frank Sinatra; military leaders Gen. Douglas McArthur and Gen. Colin Powell; world leaders Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Sir Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Tony Blair; and human rights advocates Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela.

While at API, an 18-year-old Bobelle married a bombardier with the U.S. Army Air Corps, 1st Lt. Ewart T. Sconiers. He was sent overseas during their first year of marriage and never returned home. In 1942, he was captured by the Germans after his plane was shot down. Imprisoned in the Stalag Luft III POW camp, the camp depicted in the movie "The Great Escape," Sconiers died under mysterious conditions in 1944.

Bobelle spent most of her life with the belief her young husband had been shot and buried in a mass grave. In 1955, she was told his body was declared "unrecoverable." But shortly before her own death at the age of 88 on Feb. 6, 2012, she learned his remains had been located. The family hopes they will be returned in 2015.

Family members were expected to be at this week's ceremony.

In 1955, Bobelle married Philip Harrell, a fellow pharmacist. They raised five daughters, and owned and operated a family drugstore for more than 30 years.

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