Dorothy led an active childhood and had a happy home life, encouraged by her parents to learn and do new things. She went to school at Hawthorne Elementary, which was “an excellent school with great teachers.” Her mother had started teaching her before she formally began school, so Dorothy found herself far advanced compared to other classmates. Teachers convinced Dorothy’s mom to have her skip kindergarten and first grade, but her mother refused to push her further ahead. Instead, Dorothy was assigned to help teach other kids who were struggling. As she puts it, “For me, teaching was always there.”
Dorothy was interested in artistic output, which her parents also encouraged. She started taking piano lessons around age six and eventually acquired an accordion, which a musician from the bank taught her to play. Dorothy even taught herself to figure skate by watching Sonja Henie tapes at home. Dance was also an important part of Dorothy’s young life. She learned to tap dance from Sam Brown, the dancer who taught Bill Robertson, who went on to teach Shirley Temple how to dance. Dorothy also took ballet from legendary dancer and teacher, Cora Quick. When she was only twelve, Dorothy would sometimes dance at the Orpheum when traveling ballets needed a stand-in dancer.
Dorothy was a good student as well. She learned civics from a blind teacher named Mr. Kuncel and served as his grader. She would stop by his class and take roll before heading off to her own, so she was usually a little bit late. Dorothy graduated from Omaha South High School in December of 1941.
Dorothy made plans to attend college with the aim of becoming a nurse. She had her sights set on the University of Nebraska School for Nurses. In order to be accepted into the nursing program, students typically needed to have completed two years of college courses first. Dorothy’s friend Helen came up with the idea that they should attend the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, mostly because Helen wanted the prestige of going to a state university on scholarship. Dorothy’s father refused to let her apply for scholarships and declared that they would pay their own way. She and Helen planned to take classes to get enough credit hours to apply for the incoming nursing class the following September. But the attack on Pearl Harbor that December changed everything.
On January 1, 1942, Dorothy and Helen received letters from Charlotte Burgess,