The Tacoma Sea Scouts will celebrate their 90th anniversary Saturday night — and honor a man who has been with them for more than half those years.
Tom Rogers will be honored for his continuous volunteer service with the Scouts, which seems more like a full-time career. At 74, he doesn’t appear to have slowed down his work on the Foss Waterway.
“Tom ‘volunteers’ six or seven days a week, every week,” Malcolm Russell said. “He’s the senior skipper of the Charles Curtis” — a 78-foot motor vessel, one of three boats moored at the Youth Marine Center.
“As a volunteer, leader and donor, I’ve never encountered anyone like Tom,” Russell said.
Russell is executive director of the Youth Marine Foundation, the funding arm of the Tacoma Sea Scouts, and he has worked in nonprofit organizations for 20 years, less than three with the Sea Scouts
He has nothing on Rogers, whose volunteer stint with the Scouts began in 1964.
There’s not much Rogers hasn’t done, on board or on land. He’s a teacher and mentor, skipper and swabbie. The one constant is his work with young Scouts, whether keeping the Curtis ship-shape or taking on a two-week sail.
“I grew up in Hawaii, and we didn’t have Sea Scouts,” Rogers said. “I grew up on the water, and then my parents thought it would be a good idea to send me to college on the mainland.
“I was sent to Montana State. When I got off the plane, it was snowing.”
That was 1960. Once out of school, Rogers migrated to Tacoma with a degree in finance and accounting. He started work for a Seattle plastics company, married and began a family.
“I wanted to give back to the community, and I loved the Sea Scout program. It’s co-educational, a high-activity program that’s demanding and encouraging,” Rogers said. “It’s more than hopping on a sailboat. The Curtis is a working boat, and those aboard learn navigation, engineering — the Scouts get the fundamentals here.”
Rogers has taken pride in the group, part of the Boy Scouts of America, and not just for what it does on the water. It helps shape young people into adults with a record of academic achievement.
“This year, all our high school seniors graduated,” Rogers said.
The highest rank in Sea Scouts is quartermaster, the equivalent of an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts. Tacoma produces more than its share.
“This year, we’ve got six quartermasters coming out of the program, and there will only be about 35 nationwide,” Rogers said.
Every year, Russell said, Tacoma’s quartermasters make up 10 to 15 percent of the national total. All of them know Rogers.
“I joined the Sea Scouts when I was 14,” Tarin Todd said. “My mom died when I was 18, and Tom and the Scouts were there for me.”
“Tom is funny but firm when he needs to be. And he’s forgiving. Tom allows you to make mistakes in a secure environment where you can learn from them.”
Now 32, Todd has made his own career on the water: He is the bay patrol director of Tacoma-based Citizens for a Healthy Bay, and he and Rogers have become friends.
“Tom was vice president of a Seattle company for a lot of years, has a very strong business background. I talk to him about my career when it takes a change in direction,” Todd said. “He’ll talk to me about where it will lead, what opportunities it might provide.”
Rogers is proud of his biological family, which includes five children, 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild. But he’ll acknowledge that his extended “family” includes Scouts, past and present.
“A bunch of Scouts come back to find us, names and faces that go back 40 years or more,” Rogers said. “They’re happy, successful, and that’s the best you can ask.
“One of the high points working with these kids is when the light goes on and they understand what you’re trying to show them. Working with kids keeps you young.”
Much as Rogers has taught over the past 50 years, it’s rare that one Scout or another doesn’t return the favor.
“We were out on the water recently, and a young female Scout came over and asked if I’d ever had a selfie,” Rogers said. “I told her ‘I don’t think so,’ and I was wondering where this was going and she explained what it was — taking a photograph of yourself and sending it to a friend on your telephone.
“I wondered, ‘Why the hell would I ever take a photograph of myself and then send it to anyone?’ All I told her, though, was that my telephone had come over on the Mayflower.”