The Van Pelt family embodies the long tradition of multiple generations sailing with the SIU. In total, seven members of the extended Van Pelt family have joined the SIU since 1978, often with each other’s encouragement.
The first Van Pelt to join, retired Chief Engineer Timothy Van Pelt, recently took an instructional position at the Seafarers-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education. His son, Junior Engineer Tim Van Pelt II, has also started a part-time teaching position at the school, while continuing to periodically work aboard an SIU-crewed vessel.
Van Pelt II said that his three cousins – AB Kathleen Moxey, AB Holly Scheper and Bosun Patricia “Trish” Hausner – had more of a direct influence in getting him to join the Brotherhood of the Sea.
“When my father graduated high school, it was, ‘go to college, join the military, or work at the steel mill’,” Van Pelt II said. “But he never steered his sons to join the SIU.… That said, my brothers and I inevitably joined the union.” Tim’s brothers, Electrician Brett Van Pelt and 3rd Engineer Justin Van Pelt, were the most recent additions to their union family, which also includes their grandfathers who worked as Steelworkers.
Tim Sr. said, “I don’t think I pushed any of them at all. Kathleen was just hanging out at my house, and I threw out the idea of joining. She took off and ran with it, and ended up doing over 10 years on the LNG ships. Tim, he was in college, working at a bank in a suit and tie. One day, he told me, ‘I don’t want to go back to college, I want to do what you do and go work on ships.’ And Brett, he got into Piney Point before he was 18, with a letter from me, and became an chief engineer by 20.”
Moxey said of her decision to join the SIU, “We had gone over to a party at [the Van Pelt’s] house. I had just graduated college with a degree in kinesiology, and I knew that ‘Big Tim’ had sailed. It has always interested me, so I asked him about it, and he encouraged me to learn more. I knew I wanted to do something for three to five years, and then I ended up sailing for 12.”
“I came through as a trainee a year after high school, and it’s been a life-changing decision for me,” said Tim. Sr. “I don’t know where I’d be without it. I spent 14 years on the LNG ships, and when I was home, they would call me all the time to fill in, for Moran Towing or the cable ships, even the Ready Reserve Ships when I was in town.”
“Growing up, we lived in a nice home and never went without,” said Van Pelt II. “I saw the life my father was able to provide, and I’m very grateful for everything sailing has brought me. I met my wife working, and have made sailing my life’s work.”
Tim Sr., who has spent the bulk of his time working aboard steam-powered vessels, reflected on his career, saying, “I sailed for 42 years, and my whole family was part of my career at one point or another. I sailed with each of my boys, including two trips – once on the Antares with Tim and Brett, and once to Cuba with Tim and Justin. Three Van Pelts on one ship, that’s pretty unheard of!”
He continued, “Back in the day, the joke was that my wife was nicknamed ‘Central Command,’ because when (the) manpower (office) needed some emergency staffing, they would contact her first, not even me or my boys, and ask if any of us were available to take a job. When a Van Pelt was called on, we never turned down a job. We’re very reliable that way.”
During his career, he spent a considerable amount of time at the Seafarers-affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland: “I took full advantage of the school down here. I took every course I could, and just the way they make you feel down here, with all the camaraderie, I loved coming to the school. I’d bring my family every chance I got, too.” He came ashore briefly, and worked as a union official for a time before returning to sea. “I just missed it,” he recalled. “I worked my way up to chief engineer, and I just had to get back out there. And I think the officials understood.”
A part-time physical trainer now, Moxey said, “Sailing was quite the experience. I really enjoyed seeing the world, travelling to Indonesia and Korea … and the freedom to work when you want, and leave when you want, is a real perk.”
When asked if she would encourage her younger relatives to join the SIU, she said, “If they wanted to travel and see the world, I would. I know it’s pretty different now, as far as the advanced training and all that. And to all mariners, but especially female members, I would encourage them to make a friend, and try to sail with them as often as you can. It really helps with any feelings of loneliness.”
Tim Van Pelt II came ashore in 2020 for a contracting job, but saw an opportunity to give back to the SIU through teaching. “I saw that the school needed instructors, and Piney Point is a part of me and a part of my family,” he said. “I have many fond memories of this place, and I’ll keep coming down here to work for as long as they’ll have me.”
He concluded, “During my sailing career, it was rewarding in both experiences and financially, and I was able to work with my family members on many occasions. Now, I get to help teach the next generation of mariners.”
Van Pelt Sr. concluded by talking about coming ashore:
“When I retired after 42 years, I told the guys, ‘I’m not trying to break any Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron records here.’ And now I’ve answered the call again to teach younger mariners at Piney Point. Teaching is sharing your knowledge, and all my knowledge came from the school in the first place. But now I can pull from that and my experiences at sea, and it’s heaven-sent. I never thought I would be doing this, but I love it. I love teaching electricians, QMEDs and trainees, because I know it will change their lives for the better.”
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