Gaston and Evelyn De Groote Scholarship
Captain Gaston R. De Groote (1905-1982) was chosen to master the world’s first nuclear merchant ship, the N. S. Savannah. Although he reached the top of his beloved chosen profession, he did so without the benefit of a formal education. He was born in Nazareth, near Ghent, Belgium in 1905, one of several children. At the age of 13, he was orphaned when his father was killed in a World War I bombing in 1918, subsequent to his mother’s death in 1910. Despite there being no seagoing members in his family, Captain De Groote went to sea at the age of 15. He spent a year on a training ship as a cadet and, because he was big for his age and a capable seaman, was allowed to sign on a Belgium ship at 16. Eighteen months later he was sailing as a boatswain’s mate. After serving under Belgium and Dutch flags, he completed six months of compulsory training in the Belgium Navy in 1925.
In the spring of 1926 Captain De Groote came to the United States, became a U.S. citizen and continued to climb the ladder of his maritime career. From 1930 until 1941, the late Walter O. Briggs, a Detroit industrialist and owner of the Detroit Tigers, hired Captain De Groote to serve as skipper of his 236 foot diesel yacht, The Cambriona, where he commanded a crew of 41 men. From 1941 to 1942 Captain De Groote served as skipper of the yacht LotusLand, owned by Col. E. A. Deeds of the National Cash Register Company. The yacht was turned over to the Coast Guard in 1942 and Captain De Groote returned to merchant marine service.
World War II service for Captain De Groote included convoy duty to north Europe and north Africa. He never lost a ship during the war but was wounded on a convoy trip during the Battle of the Bulge and spent three months recuperating in a hospital. After the war, he served with two steamship companies as a captain until 1947 when he joined the States Marine Lines, the operating company for the nuclear ship N. S. Savannah. After 15 years in command of world-circling freighters, which included the Korean War, Captain De Groote was selected, against stiff competition, to command the N. S. Savannah, without the benefit of a college degree. Captain De Groote proudly trained for three years to become the Savannah’s skipper. The nuclear ship is now in the Charleston, South Carolina National Maritime Museum.
On November 15, 1963, Captain De Groote was presented the Knight of the Order of Leopold medal on behalf of the King of Belgium. In addition, a street in Nazareth, Belgium was named “Kapitein De Groote Straat” in his honor.
Captain De Groote retired from the sea in 1964 only to continue to be in touch with it by running a ship surveyor business in the Port of Tampa for 10 years prior to his full retirement.
Evelyn Vanecek (1912-2002), of New York City, married Gaston De Groote in 1936. She was a homemaker and devoted to her church and taught religious education in addition to being a Eucharistic minister for many years in the Catholic church. She felt strongly, along with her husband, that a belief in God and good moral values were necessary to achieve a full life. Mrs. De Groote provided a safe haven port for her husband’s seafaring life. Throughout the years, she immaculately maintained their residences, first in New York and ultimately in Florida, taking care of the family pets and tending to many gardens.
Captain and Mrs. De Groote believed so deeply in the importance of a formal education that they endowed the Gaston R. and Evelyn De Groote Scholarship to help worthy young students with financial need in their quest for a full and rewarding life.