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When Kaiser Permanente and a member grow up together

One of the original Kaiser Permanente members, who recently passed away, joined Kaiser Permanente during her days as a Rosie the Riveter. She remained loyal ever since. Pictured: Dorothy Cerro with her dad (right) and a friend waiting for a ride to the shipyards.

Dorothy Cerro was a hairstylist most of her working life, but she was most proud of her time at one of the 4 Henry J. Kaiser shipyards in Richmond during World War II.

“We decided to do our part to help win the war by working in the shipyard,” Cerro said in her account of her 3 years working there.

Cerro’s shipyard badge

This Rosie the Riveter recently passed away at 100, and for most of her life, she has been under the care of Kaiser Permanente. She was a longtime San Leandro resident and her primary care doctor, Cynthia Chin, MD, was in Union City.    

Cerro’s membership dates to Kaiser Permanente’s beginnings at Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyards during World War II. During the war, the shipyard health plan cared for more than 100,000 Kaiser shipyard workers and their families, according to Kaiser Permanente historian Cuong Le. Beginning in 1942, women were increasingly hired at the Kaiser shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and Richmond. By mid-1944, an average of 1 in 4 of the workers at Kaiser’s Richmond shipyards were women.

Hannah Peters, MD, joined the Kaiser Richmond shipyards to care for the women there. She and her team provided female workers with specialized care plans and diets to help them adjust to their new roles.

Best person for the job

two people
Dorothy Cerro and her dad going to work at the Henry J. Kaiser shipyards in Richmond.

Cerro was 19 when she began working in the shipyards in 1942. A supervisor asked her what such a petite woman was doing there, her grandson recalled her telling him. She was 1 of 3 women in her crew. During her 3 years in the shipyard, she held multiple jobs. Building ladders for the engine rooms was the most memorable.

“It was her pride and joy,” said her granddaughter, Lisa Miller. “She was very proud to be accepted for her work, to be the best person, not best man or best woman, but the best person for the job.”

Cerro led a crew that made and hung the ladders, considered difficult tasks that not everyone could do successfully. Cerro and her crew did such a good job, they were lured back to ladder-making after they moved on to other work and other crews couldn’t correctly make ladders.

Women were no longer allowed to work in the shipyards once the war ended. Cerro remained as 1 of the 11,500 members in Northern California who stayed with Kaiser Permanente after the war, when the health plan opened in July 1945.  

Cerro talked about her time in the shipyards throughout her life, said her grandchildren, who called her grandma Dottie.

The epitome of preventive health

After leaving the shipyards, Cerro returned to hair dressing and continued to get medical care at Kaiser Permanente. She felt Kaiser Permanente took great care of her, and she was confident in the health care organization, said her grandson, Doug Miller.

“She grew up with Kaiser,” he said.

Dr. Chin recalled Cerro pointing out her 3-digit medical record number. Most members have 9 digits.

“She was proud of it.” Dr. Chin said. “It showed her longevity, as an original member.” 

Dr. Chin characterized Cerro as warm, optimistic, and resilient. She remembered seeing Cerro comfort her sister at a skilled nursing home.

“Seeing how she cared for and loved her sister was really inspiring,” Dr. Chin said.

Both grandchildren describe Cerro as lively, engaged, and goal-oriented. She talked about wanting to live to 100 for years. She turned 100 in the fall, a few weeks before she died.

When reflecting on Cerro’s secrets to a long life, Doug and Lisa Miller mention her energy, positive attitude, and her commitment to health, a quality Dr. Chin also mentioned. Each morning she would start her day with juice, freshly squeezed from oranges grown in her backyard.

“She was fit, proud that she was healthy,” Lisa Miller said. “She always wanted to follow doctor’s orders. She wanted to be healthy and on top of things.”


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Loved this true retelling of her story, like so many others, who gave their best for the good of the whole country. Love that she had a 3-digit MRN, was recognized for excellence and squeezed her own oranges for juice.

  2. Very inspiring to read of this Rosie and her WW2 history along with her Kaiser longevity!
    It’s sad though because we at the Rosie the Riveter WW2 Home Front NHP over in Richmond, CA (on the grounds of the Kaiser Shipyards) would have loved to have met her and honored her at our many events for Rosies. ❤️

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