Longtime School VP Reflects on Career

 

July 2016

 

Back to Issue


When Don Nolan started working at the union-affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, shortly after it opened in the late 1960s, he didn’t have grand visions about its future.

 

 

Having just been honorably discharged after four years of service in the U.S. Navy, Nolan was mainly interested in two things: getting a job, and avoiding a return to his hometown of Saxton, Pennsylvania, which wasn’t exactly a hotbed of activity.

 

One could say it worked out okay.

 

Nolan enjoyed a 48-year career in Piney Point, including a long run as the school’s top executive. He helped guide the institution through tremendous growth and seismic improvements – to the point where the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) now offers the most U.S. Coast Guard-approved courses of any school in the nation.

 

Not bad for a guy who spent his first 10 years in Piney Point working as a cook.

 

Late last year, Nolan quietly decided to retire. He is enjoying lots of golf and a different pace in Solivita, Florida, but still thinks of the school practically every day.

 

“I will never, ever forget about Piney Point,” he said during an interview in May. “I can’t imagine where my life would be without it. I owe my whole life to the union and Piney Point, no doubt about it. It was a wonderful ride and there was never a day I didn’t want to go to work.”

 

Bart Rogers, PHC assistant vice president and manpower director, worked with Nolan for 36 years.

 

“He did almost every job possible at the school at one time or another,” Rogers recalled. “He changed the school as vice president in so many ways: new simulation, upgraded the classrooms, managed the waterfront restoration and the building of many new facilities. He upgraded the technology and beautified the entire campus. Don was dedicated to the school and its mission, which is to provide mariners with the best possible training to meet the contracted (ship) operator’s needs.”

 

J.C. Wiegman, who worked at the school from the late 1980s until 2015 (most recently as director of training), described Nolan as “a person no one will forget and I surely won’t. Students who haven’t been to the school for 30 years come back and ask about him. He has a soft heart and he truly cared about everybody who worked at the school.”

 

Wiegman added, “Don’s legacy was his ability to oversee massive construction efforts that included the firefighting school; the first simulator at the school, which brought (the company) Transas into the United States; rebuilding the waterfront; remodeling of the library; and the new construction that was completed shortly after I retired. I wish him all the best.”

 

Jimmy Hanson, longtime PHC safety director and assistant vice president, stated, “Don’s career at the school includes numerous accomplishments. He is living proof that you can start at the bottom and advance. I hope his retirement offers many years of good health and happiness. He deserves it.”

 

Nolan, who turned 71 in May, had been stationed in southern Maryland for his last stretch in the Navy. He had a chance meeting with Mike Sacco – now president of the SIU, then one of the first officials tasked with getting the fledgling school into shape.

 

“When I met Mike, he told me to come and see him when I got out of the Navy,” Nolan remembered. “I did, and he put me to work about an hour later. I really have to thank him for my career, because he believed in me. And I’d be remiss in not mentioning Frank Mongelli and Ken Conklin (both PHC vice presidents at different times), because they were also tremendously supportive.”

 

Still, no matter how good the eventual fit, Piney Point was a tough draw in its infancy. Members and officials who remember that era usually groan when asked to describe it, and Nolan is no different.

 

“It was a mud puddle and there was no such thing as a day off,” he said. “The union bought the property in 1967 but didn’t really start training until the following year. The labor was mostly shore gangs from New York, Philly and Norfolk. We worked seven days a week but we also had the most unique bunch I’ve ever met, and they somehow made it fun.

 

“We basically started the school with a lifeboat program,” he continued. “We had no upgrader programs then, and once you got lifeboat, you shipped out pretty quick.”

 

Like the school itself, Nolan grew professionally. He took courses and earned teaching certifications, and became the school’s first steward department instructor. In fact, he wrote the first curriculums for the department.

 

It remains his favorite period at the school, though it was relatively brief (1978-80).

 

Nolan’s other jobs included supervisor of food services, faculty supervisor, director of culinary training and more. He served as vice president (the school’s top post) from 1998 until retiring.

 

Summarizing his career, Nolan said, “I enjoyed the people and working through problems. I always thought that was my strong suit: fixing things and making things happen. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges. It was fun, but you know what? So is retirement.”


Share |

Four Questions with Don Nolan

 

Q : Are there any events that happened at the
school that stand out in your memory?


A: Our first big event was after we built the
hotel in 1983, we hosted the AFL-CIO executive
council. It went perfectly. AFL-CIO President Lane
Kirkland was setting up a press conference in the
auditorium, and somebody said he was looking for
me. When I found him, he asked me to take his dog
for a walk.


Also, I don’t think too many maritime schools
can say they hosted two United States presidents
(Bill Clinton and George W. Bush).


Q: You wore many hats throughout the years.
Was there a favorite job?


A: The steward department was always my favorite
job – that and working with the trainees. Of
course, I learned an awful lot about construction, too.


Q : Why do you think the school has survived
and grown all these years?


A: The quality of the students and the staff.
They’re the best you can find anywhere. I think
we set the standards for the industry, and we don’t
mind competition as long as it’s a level playing
field.


Q : What do you see in the future for the U.S.
Merchant Marine?


A: I think it will grow, and I think the school
will also continue to grow. It’s so important for national
security.