Shipboard celebration

JUST MARRIED

Tina Grabowski And Chuck Nemec

April 08, 2001|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,Special to the Sun

Tina Grabowski and Chuck Nemec's wedding was held in a chapel with a pulpit made from the bow of a lifeboat and an altar topped with a ship's hatch cover. The guests included men in paint-spattered coveralls, caps held respectfully in their hands. Among the gifts were a lamp crafted from a piece of nautical rigging and a card depicting a tongue-in-cheek "honeymoon cruise."

For the first time in the history of the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown, two of its crew married on board.

The restored ship is docked in Canton, a short distance from where it was built in Bethlehem Steel's Fairfield shipyard. Launched on Labor Day 1942, the Brown is one of just two Liberty ships still in operation. Liberty ships were used to carry cargo during World War II and are considered one of the cornerstones of the Allied victory.

Tina and Chuck met on board the Brown in February 2000, but their initial encounter was through the Internet. Tina was auctioning a penguin-shaped Pez candy dispenser on the eBay Web site. Chuck, who collects penguin-themed items of all types, was the high bidder.

A mechanical designer with Whitman, Requardt and Associates in Baltimore, Chuck was living in Overlea, where he grew up. Tina, an agricultural program specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, had recently moved to Fairfax, Va., after a promotion to USDA's Washington headquarters.

Tina says she was taken with Chuck's witty e-mails as they set up payment arrangements for the Pez dispenser; Chuck's high bid was $4.50. She and Chuck continued to e-mail, and they talked on the phone at length before deciding to meet.

By then, Chuck had been volunteering as an electrician on the Brown for nearly three years. Like many of the volunteer crew, he often spends Saturdays on board (many of the volunteers work on Wednesdays as well). He works on wiring, gives tours and even chaperones Boy Scouts and other groups spending the night on the ship.

Because they really only knew one another through the Internet, Chuck suggested meeting on the ship, figuring it would give Tina peace of mind knowing that she would be surrounded by other people on board.

The date didn't go well. Chuck was nervous. Tina wondered what had happened to the charming man she had talked to over the phone. They were both disappointed after the meeting.

But after a subsequent phone call, they decided to meet on the Brown a week later to try again. And this time, the spark took. Tina, 37, and Chuck, 38, began seeing one another regularly.

The volunteer crew of the Brown liked Tina immediately, which pleased Chuck. "Being down at the ship -- it's like a second family," he explains.

When an opening came up last fall for someone to handle ticket sales and related duties for the Brown's summer-cruise schedule, Tina volunteered. She and Chuck had already decided to marry by then. They only needed to set the date.

At the urging of their fellow crew members -- many of whom have reached the half-century mark in their own marriages, the couple decided on a shipboard celebration.

The wedding was held on a Wednesday, when most of the crew would be on board. Everyone pitched in to make it a day to remember. Some turned up the Saturday before to swab the deck and polish the pews. Others came early on the wedding morning to set up the reception. Though the Brown never left port, Capt. Paul J. Esbensen was present to make sure everything was shipshape.

The wedding organist was one of the ship's oilers, who entertained guests with period favorites like "I Married An Angel" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby." The soloist was a ship's electrician. The reception was overseen by the Brown's events coordinator. Most of the 25 or so volunteers on hand were in their work clothes.

Guests mingled on the "tween deck," which also serves as the ship's museum. A "Just Married" banner hung amid the wartime posters and old photos of previous crews.

After the ceremony, when it was time for the toast, Brian H. Hope, chairman of the Project Liberty Ship Foundation, seemed to sum up the thoughts of everyone in the room as he wished Tina and Chuck "fair winds and following seas in the years ahead."

NOTICE TO READERS

Just Married

To share your unique story with readers, send an e-mail to justmarried@baltsun.com or a brief letter to Just Married, Features Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. E-mails or letters must reach us at least 30 days before the wedding and must include the wedding date and a daytime and evening phone number for the bride and groom.

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