Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse
When her country went to war and needed her, Dorothy Kurtz stepped up to serve her country. When her wartime service was over, she decided to continue her service to her country as a volunteer with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law on November 23, 1942, to establish the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. The Women’s Reserve, which allowed men to leave their positions on shore to fight the war, came to be referred to as the SPARs, an acronym representing the Coast Guard motto, “Semper Paratus—Always Ready.”
Kurtz was one of the first women to join the ranks of the SPARs.
The Bronx, New York, native served as a SPAR from 1943 to 1946. Passionate about the Coast Guard, she remained an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary until her passing Sept. 12, 2016, at the age of 93.
She served as chaplain and historian for the Dolphins Women’s Veterans Organization and volunteered 25 years with the Senior Friendship Center. She also volunteered with the American Red Cross during times of tragedy in Florida.
Kurtz was extremely proud of her role of not only a SPAR, but as an Auxiliarist. Her dedication and pride overflowed to others around her including her family. Her daughter, Barbara Szymanski, is a current member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
During her long life, Kurtz opened many doors for female shipmates.
“Ms. Kurtz was a trailblazer in not only her words, but in her actions,” said Capt. Holly Najarian, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “Her dedication to the Coast Guard was evident in her tenacity to spread the word to scores of young up and coming servicemembers and was reflected in the pride that her family members, in particular her daughter, have in carrying on her legacy as a Coast Guard Auxiliarist.”
Kurtz was a great example of women who stepped beyond the confines gender boundaries. She and her fellow SPARs made it easier for those who followed.
“Dorothy Kurtz is one of the main reasons I am where I am today in my Coast Guard career,” said Chief Warrant Officer Lois Davis, personnel division chief at Sector St. Petersburg. “She set me, and many other Coast Guard women, up for success!”
Kurtz opened doors for women to fill pertinent shore-side support rolls. Her accomplishments empowered women to fight for further involvement in rolls traditionally held by males, such as operational and underway positions.
“Dorothy’s history as a SPAR was a great inspiration to me and other women in the military,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Brittany Desaulniers, a coxswain at Station Fort Myers Beach. “She was instrumental during a monumental time in history that paved the way for women like me to feel relevant in the workforce, especially in the military.”
One of her many memorable moments was receiving a special invitation from the White House to participate in the commissioning of the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, a 418-foot Nation Security Cutter homported in Alameda, California. The Cutter Stratton was named after Capt. Dorothy C. Stratton, the director of the SPARS and Kurtz’s commanding officer.
Coast Guard Auxiliary and active duty members joined Kurtz’s family and friends to give their last respects as she was laid to rest at the Venice Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Venice, Florida, Sept. 19. The Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard provided full military honors for Kurtz.
“I was fortunate to not only attend the ceremony, but was also requested to provide the family the national ensign as a symbol of the Coast Guard’s and the nations’ appreciation of her service,” said Najarian. “It was a humbling moment for me as the direct representative of the Coast Guard to the family. It was a great honor.”
Kurtz was the beloved wife of the late Harold J. Kurtz and loving mother of her predeceased son, Richard. She leaves her daughters Catherine Van Langen, Patricia Kurtz, Teresa Hall, Betsy Conforti, Barbara Szymanski and son Edward. She is also survived by 11 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
Kurtz truly lived her life, stuck by her convictions and led by example. Her loved ones, her friends and her entire Coast Guard family will surely miss her. Fair winds and following seas, shipmate.