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Annabel Corna answered country's call during World War II

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Monday, Dec. 6, 2010

Annabel J. Corna was working as a bookkeeper during World War II when she heard a radio commercial offering women full engineering scholarships to Pennsylvania State University.

"All the men were at war, and engineers were needed," her daughter Deborah Corna said. Mrs. Corna, then Annabel Johnson, joined the first group of women admitted to the university's engineering department, and earned a certificate in aeronautical engineering.

Annabel J. Corna, 88, died Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010, in her home in Rector, Westmoreland County. She was a retired mathematics teacher for the Jeannette School District, and an avid golfer who lived each winter in Ocala, Fla.

Mrs. Corna grew up in Ligonier and, after skipping two grades, graduated from Ligonier High School. After bookkeeping school, she worked as a bookkeeper for the former Troutman's Department Store in Greensburg.

Then, intrigued by Penn State's offer, she went to classes Mondays through Saturdays for two years under the accelerated program at the State College campus. Aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney paid the tuition, in exchange for a promise from each student to work for the company for at least two years.

After finishing the program, Mrs. Corna worked for Pratt & Whitney parent United Aircraft Corp. for two years in Hartford, Conn.

Later, she married high school acquaintance James B. Corna. She hadn't liked him much in school, Deborah Corna said, but after they met again in a nightclub, "They became better friends, and eventually they had five children."

Corna's nickname for his wife was Hardrock. "She was his rock. She was there for everybody, and family was everything to her," Deborah Corna said.

In the late 1960s, Mrs. Corna began work toward a teaching degree in Indiana University of Pennsylvania, figuring the profession would allow time with her family. She taught middle school math for most of her career in the Jeannette schools. She retired in 1984.

She and her husband traveled to Italy every two years, and made trips to Egypt, Spain, Greece, China and other countries. They were founding members of the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company, and even cosigned a loan to help the department buy its first fire truck about 1950. They were active in Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Ligonier.

James Corna died in 2002. Mrs. Corna also was preceded in death by a daughter, Nina Budney Kobistek; two sons, James B. Corna II and Dr. Daniel A. Corna; a sister, Fern McCracken; and a brother, Eugene Johnson.

Survivors include daughters Paula Ament of Sarver, Butler County, and Deborah Corna of Ocala, Fla., six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Also four sisters and a brother: Grace Burkett of Youngstown, Ohio, Ina Mae Smithley of Ligonier, Wanda Marlene Aikens of Holland, Mich., Rita Horrell of Ligonier and Paul A. Johnson of Ligonier.

Visitation is scheduled from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today in J. Paul McCracken Funeral Chapel and Crematory Inc., Ligonier. A vigil for the deceased will be held at 3 p.m. today in the chapel.

A blessing service is planned at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the chapel, followed by a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. in Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Interment will follow in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company or to Holy Trinity Catholic School.

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