The United States Coast Guard Cutter SPAR arrived in Petersburg Saturday afternoon to honor Laura Marie Nuss-Rokey for her service in the Coast Guard during World War II.
“We had no intention of coming to Petersburg,” SPAR Captain Michelle Schallip said. “But when we found out Mrs. Nuss-Rokey was here we had to make the trip.”
Nuss-Rokey is City Manager Steve Giesbrecht’s mother in law.
On Nov. 23, 1942 legislation was passed creating the Coast Guard Women's Reserve, SPAR, which comes from the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus! Always Ready!
More than 10,000 women volunteered to become SPARs between 1942 and 1946. Nuss-Rokey was one of these women.
“I had no intention of enlisting,” Nuss-Rokey said. “I went along as an escort for two of my girlfriends, and I was the one who enlisted.”
The average enlisted applicants were single, 22 year old high school graduates, while the average officer applicants were single, 29 year old college graduates.
SPARs served throughout the United States. They were involved in both the traditional and non-traditional functions of the Coast Guard.
“I spent two years of my time in the Coast Guard enlisted,” Nuss-Rokey said. “Then I attended Hunter College in the Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel and became commissioned.”
Nuss-Rokey enlisted in Denver, Colo. and served two years in Washington D.C. She spent the majority of her time in the finance department. “I was the commander of payroll,” she stated. “But I also served as supply officer for a time as well.”
The USCGC SPAR was commissioned in 2000 and many of the original members of the SPARs were in attendance for this event.
“Some women of my unit attended the commissioning of the ship,” Nuss-Rokey said. “And we also were able to attend a Women's History event in Washington D.C.”
This event was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the SPAR.
Nuss-Rokey showed excitement as she was introduced to the captain of the SPAR, Lt. Commander Michelle Schallip.
The SPAR has about 42 crew members, including five women.
“We are fortunate to be able to compete in this world,” Schallip said. “I am not a woman captain, I'm a captain who happens to be a woman.”
Schallip took the opportunity to show Nuss-Rokey the wall of the ship that pays homage to the women of the Coast Guard, the SPARs.
As she was shown photos of other SPAR members she recognized a few and began to sing along with her daughter, Mary Giesbrecht, when a SPAR songbook was brought out.
“I hope you all are as proud of the Coast Guard as I am and will always be,” Nuss-Rokey said. “I keep in contact with quite a few of the SPARs and with the Coast Guard you will always have family.”