Inspired by a Life magazine article about Frank Lloyd Wright, Gertrude Kerbis, then a student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, hitchhiked to Wright's Taliesin estate in Spring Green, Wis. Entranced by the rooms she was seeing as she peered through glass exterior walls, she crawled in a bathroom window and somehow managed to stay the night.
By the time she awoke the next morning, she recalled in a short 2008 film about her life, "I had decided I was going to be an architect."
In the drafting room of Chicago architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where Kerbis worked until 1959, she was a rare sight — a woman in a sea of men wearing white shirts and ties. A highlight of those years was the cadet dining hall she designed as part of SOM's futuristic U.S. Air Force Academy campus in Colorado Springs, Colo. The long-span structure, which had overhanging roof trusses, was designed to serve thousands of cadets at a time. Kerbis took pride in the building though she found it amusing that she, a woman, was assigned to shape the dining hall.