During World War II, on November 23, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law that established the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. The Women’s Reserve came to be referred to as the SPARS, an acronym representing the Coast Guard motto, “Semper Paratus — Always Ready.”
One of the first women to join the ranks of the SPARS was Dorothy E. Kurtz.
Kurtz served as a SPAR from 1943 to 1946. Passionate with her branch of service, she remained an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary until her passing Sept. 12, 2016 – she was 93.
Kurtz was born in Bronx, New York in 1922 and she moved to Bergen County, New Jersey in 1952. She also held residence in Sarasota County, Fla. 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 Red Cross during times of tragedy in Florida.
Kurtz was extremely proud of her role of not only a SPAR, but as a Coast Guard Auxiliarist. Her dedication and pride overflowed to others around her including her family. Her daughter, Barbara Szymanski, is a current member of the Auxiliary.
During her long and prosperous 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 service members 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, a personnel division chief at Coast Guard 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 roles 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 work-force, especially in the military.”
One of her many memorable accomplishments was the thrill of participating, through special invitation from the White House, in the commissioning of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, a 418-foot Nation Security Cutter homported in Alameda, Calif. The Cutter Stratton was named after Capt. Dorothy C. Stratton, the first woman to serve in the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard and Kurtz’s commanding officer.
Kurtz was laid to rest at Venice Memorial Gardens cemetery, Venice, Fla., Sept. 19. Coast Guard Auxiliary and active duty members paid their last respects and gathered in support for the Kurtz family as members of the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard provided a full military honor ceremony.
“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.”
Dorothy 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 eleven grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.
Kurtz truly lived her life. She stuck by her convictions and led by example. Her loved ones, her friends and her entire Coast Guard family will surely miss her.
For video of World War II SPAR Dorothy Kurtz discussing her service in the Coast Guard with Dr. Richard Stephenson, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary National Historian, click here.
Dorothy E. Kurtz, Nov. 8, 1922 – Sept. 12, 2016
Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse, Public Affairs Detachment Tampa Bay