Carmen Maria Lozano Dumler had a childhood so carefree, she didn’t realize there was a Great Depression.
She spent her days horseback-riding around La Isla del Encanto — Puerto Rico. And when she entered the kitchen of the “Big House’’ where she lived on the coffee plantation run by her father, the cooks and servants shooed her away because it wasn’t thought proper for her to do something as lowly as cooking.
She itched for more. After a try at hang gliding, she longed to be a pilot. But in the 1930s, there weren’t many opportunities to learn to fly for a young, sheltered woman in Puerto Rico, especially not one with a protective abuelita.
She decided to go to nursing school because medical expertise — along with her youth and good looks — could help her land a job as a flight attendant. In those days of rickety plane rides, airlines recognized in-flight crews of nurses were a marketing plus that could fill seats.
Nursing didn’t lead to flying, but it did give Mrs. Dumler one of the proudest moments of her life. On Aug. 21, 1944, she entered the Army Nurse Corps. She was the first sworn in out of a group of 13 trailblazing nurses in Puerto Rico recruited to care for the growing number of Puerto Rican soldiers at military hospitals in San Juan and the Caribbean, according to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.
“The Army did not recruit women on the island until 1944,” said retired Lt. Col. Marilla Cushman, a spokeswoman for the foundation. “Mrs. Dumler was the first on the island to be sworn in.”
A second lieutenant, she and the other 12 were valued for both their nursing and bilingual skills.
Mrs. Dumler died March 29 at Brookdale Senior Living facility in Hoffman Estates. She was 93 and had Alzheimer’s disease.
During World War II, she studied at the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in San Juan, according to her daughter, Karen Balinski, then worked at Puerto Rico’s Camp Tortuguero before being assigned to a military hospital on the island of Trinidad, where she cared for recovering soldiers.
“She would talk to them at night, and she recognized she kind of had a gift,” her daughter said. “She was gifted with therapy and counseling.”
She met Army Air Corps Lt. Joseph Dumler at the Officers Club at Trinidad’s Ford Read.
“He danced with her as much as possible,” their daughter said. “My dad walked her home. She had to be on the steps of the nursing school at 11:30 [p.m.], and he got her there on time. And they sat on the steps and talked all night long till about 6:30 a.m.
“And then, they went to 9 o’clock mass.”
Three months later, the couple got married at the Fort Read chapel. One of her relatives worried about how the newlyweds would eat.
“She was appalled that my dad didn’t have a servant or a cook,” said their son, Mark. “And she said, ‘Who’s going to cook? Who’s going to clean?’ And he said, ‘I guess I am.’ ’’
And most of the time, he did do their cooking.
“You knew I wasn’t raised to be a cook when you married me,” Mrs. Dumler told him.
That was OK with him, as was providing for the family while his hard-working wife would salt their retirement accounts.
“I will pay for our life,” he told her. “You can prepare for our future.”
When they retired, they lived a comfortable life in Florida for 23 years, renting out four Sunshine State properties they’d bought as investments.
After marrying, the Dumlers resumed civilian life in his hometown of Baltimore and later settled in Hoffman Estates.
Joseph Dumler worked for a subsidiary of General Mills. Their children attended St. Hubert’s grade school in Hoffman Estates and Conant High School. Mrs. Dumler was a den mother and Girl Scout cookie mom.
Mrs. Dumler spent 20 years working as a nurse for Alexian Brothers Health System on the overnight shift because it didn’t interfere with raising her family, said another son, Chris. The last decade, she specialized in substance-abuse counseling.
In addition to her husband and three children, Mrs. Dumler is also survived by daughters Diana Sullivan, Becky Wenzel and Lisa Horlebein; another son, Brian; a sister, Lydia Rivera; and 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
“She is certainly a pioneer for Puerto Rican women, one of the first 13 to be commissioned into the Army Nurse Corps,” Cushman said. “Carmen and her 12 cohorts led the way for Puerto Rican women in the Army Nurse Corps.”