There is a tangible link between retired Coast Guard Captain Thomas Marhevko, of Forest Park, and fellow Forest Parker, Ensign Maeve Roach. In a unique ceremony, several members of Tom’s Class of 1971 donated their gold class rings to be melted down to become part of the class rings of Maeve’s Class of 2021. Tom not only donated his ring, he was the keynote speaker at the ceremony on April 14, 2018.

Tom deserved the honor, after a standout career in the Coast Guard, and he rose to the occasion, delivering a breezy but heartfelt speech, unlike the formal speeches he endured as a cadet. The presence of Maeve in the audience made the ceremony even more meaningful.

The ring ceremony brought Tom’s Coast Guard career full circle, so to speak. He grew up in Hamtramck, Michigan, but didn’t wish to join his high school classmates working at the Dodge Assembly Plant. He wanted to do something completely different, so he joined the Coast Guard.

Tom drove to the academy in New London, Connecticut in his parents’ beige 1963 Ford Galaxy. It wasn’t as fancy as the Corvettes his classmates drove but it was much roomier. During his four years at the academy, Tom earned a B.S. in Engineering. The courses were tough but he graduated in the top third of his all-male class.

After graduation, Tom and his classmates all went to sea. He joined the crew of a Polar icebreaker. The ship used its 1½ inch steel hull to break out the ice from Arctic harbors. He later broke out ice from U.S. bases in Antarctica.  

After years at sea, he obtained his master’s degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from the University of Michigan. He learned how to design and build a ship with all of its complex systems. After graduation, he worked in research and development in Washington D.C. He then returned to his first love, serving on an icebreaker stationed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. 

As he rose through the ranks, Tom repaired cutters in a Boston shipyard. He then transferred to New Orleans and became commanding officer of the base, before retiring in 1997. He retired on a Friday and started his new career the following Monday at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Tom used the skills and education he received from the Coast Guard to oversee the manufacture and inspection of recreational craft. When he retired in 2020, he had become senior vice president of Engineering Standards.

He didn’t mention his successful civilian career, or his Coast Guard tours of duty, during his speech. Instead, he told the audience what things were like in 1971. He mentioned President Nixon, the Vietnam War and the founding of Greenpeace. 

Then he focused on pop culture. “Bridge over Troubled Water” was song of the year but Tom preferred “Light My Fire” by the Doors. His other theme song at the academy was “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” by the Animals. 

He had the audience laughing but became almost poetic near the end. 

“Steel mixed with a small amount of alloy makes it stronger,” he said, and hoped the small amount of gold they donated, “Will give your ring just the right amount of alloy, the right amount of the Class of 1971, to be part of the symbol of the Class of 2021, a class we know will very much surpass our achievements.” 

We trust Maeve took Tom’s words to heart and they will inspire her as she launches her career in the Coast Guard. It will be her turn to donate gold in 2071.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.