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After a lifetime on ships, he's anchored in Hernando County now

Stephen Paler retired from the high seas in 2007 after 54 years as a merchant seaman. He logged 100,000 kilometers aboard M/V Mobile Search, an oil exploration vessel.

RON THOMPSON | Times

Stephen Paler retired from the high seas in 2007 after 54 years as a merchant seaman. He logged 100,000 kilometers aboard M/V Mobile Search, an oil exploration vessel.

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

I was born in Escanaba, Mich., where I met my first wife, Mary Ann. We moved to Lorain, Ohio (in the Cleveland area), where we lived until she passed away. We were married for about 10 years.

While living in Ohio many years later, I met and fell in love with Clara, my second wife. She passed away about four years ago. Clara and I had moved to Florida about 37 years ago and bought our first home in High Point.

Who are the members of your family?

My first wife and I had one son, Stephen, who lives in Ohio. She had three children from a previous marriage. Clara had seven children when we married. All of the children were very young when I married their mother, and I worked very long and hard hours to help take care of them all.

Tell us about your career.

I was a merchant seaman for more than 54 years. I worked for several different shipping companies. With some we carried coal to power plants, and with others stone and iron ore to steel mills. All the ships ported in the Great Lakes area.

Looking back over my career, my favorite ship was the Charles M. Beeghly for several reasons. We had a good crew, and I liked the way the ship was laid out, especially the engine room. But best of all, it's the ship I retired on.

My dad and uncle and a cousin all use to sail, and when I was a teenager I decided that is what I wanted to do, too. I lied about my age to get hired in 1954. I was one year too young, so I changed the date on my birth certificate by one year. You had to be 16 to get your seaman's document. The first shipping company I worked for was Inland Steel.

The job has taken me around the world several times. At one time, I worked for Mobil Oil on a seismographic (research) ship exploring for oil.

Two times during my career, I witnessed very disturbing things. On Nov. 10, 1975, I was working on the Edward B. Greene and we were right behind the Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down on Lake Superior in bad weather. Twenty-nine men lost their lives. After we unloaded and the weather improved, we got orders to return to the area to help with debris and look for survivors.

Another bad day was back in my younger days. It was 1965 and we were up by the Mackinac Bridge. It was our first trip that year, and it was a very foggy day. We were headed toward the bridge aboard the J.E. Upson. Earlier, we had hit a lighthouse and had orders to go up to the Straits of Mackinac to lay anchor until the weather cleared up. Then we were headed to port to be evaluated for damages. As we were laying anchor, two ships — a German ship (I don't remember the name) and the Cedarville — collided. The Cedarville went down not too far off our bow. We lowered our lifeboats to try to pick up survivors. Ten men died.

It was aboard the J.E. Upson when we got the news that John F. Kennedy had been killed.

I retired Aug. 1, 2007.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

I volunteer at Oak Hill Hospital. I started about 30 days after retiring. I don't like being idle. On Fridays when I volunteer, I drive the golf cart from the parking lot to the hospital, giving visitors and patients rides. I also work in the materials (medical supplies ) area, where I answer phones and help out wherever needed.

I'm also a member of Knights of Columbus St. Frances Cabrini Council 13209, thanks to my special friend Patricia Ludwig. I joined this past fall. Pat is a member of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, and her deceased husband was a member. She convinced me to join, and I'm so glad I did. I just love it. I just earned my third degree, and I recently helped with the Tootsie Roll fundraiser.

Do you have any special hobbies?

It's hard to have hobbies when you are gone for nine months out of the year (usually March to January). During the last five years before I retired, I began cutting back and not being gone as long.

I got the opportunity to do different things and found out that I love going deep sea fishing. I also like to travel for leisure. If I could go, I would love to see Australia again.

I love to take cruises; so far I've taken about 12. It's totally different than working on a ship; you can dance and drink on a cruise, and you don't have to wear dirty work clothes — you can wear a tuxedo and look nice. I also enjoy meeting new people and talking to people.

I don't play golf, but Pat does. And the more time I spend with her, listening to her golf stories or watching golf on television, I'm starting to take a liking to it.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

I like to go out to eat, and there are lots of different restaurants here to enjoy. The church is very important to both Pat and me. When I first came to the area, I was a member of St. Theresa, but a few years ago I joined St. Frances Cabrini.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

Well, this would be something for the entire country, not just Hernando County, but I don't think that any senior citizen should have to make the choice between medicine or food. It has start somewhere — maybe here. I know of some who make that decision, and those are hard choices.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

When I was a young man in the early 1960s, I took one year off from the shipping business and moved to California, where I worked in the aviation industry.

During that time, I met Jack Carol, who owned a gas station at the corner of Reseda Boulevard and Saticoy Street in the town of Reseda. Jack and I became friends, and he introduced me to Claude Akins, the actor, whom he knew. The three of us would often go to wrestling matches together.

One day, while I was at the gas station visiting with Jack, three of the Lennon sisters pulled up needing gas. Jack introduced me to them. The California job didn't pan out, and I ended up moving back to Michigan.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at jhayes@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1438.

After a lifetime on ships, he's anchored in Hernando County now 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 11:22am]
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