Walter “Ralph” Atwell is a well-known person to many in the Cape May community. Ralph began summering in Cape May in 1965 while working as a lifeguard. It is a job, which he still has today. He became a full-time resident of Cape May in 2012.
Ralph is married to his wife Bernadette of 48 years. Together they have four children and three grandchildren. He was an educator for 40 years. He spent 20 years as a history teacher followed by 20 years as a guidance counselor at Shawnee High School in Medford, New Jersey. He also served as a communications specialist in the United States Navy during the Vietnam war.
Ralph joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary in 2012. When asked why he joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary Ralph’s response was that he wanted an opportunity to volunteer stating ”I have always loved water-related activities like swimming, surfing, fishing, and boating. I just liked the idea of joining a water-related organization and I still enjoy having the military aspect in my life”.
Ralph’s teaching and military experience have made him a valuable asset to the Cape May Coast Guard Community. He began volunteering by first training and becoming a qualified crew member which allows him to participate in patrolling local waters and assisting the United States Coast Guard (USCG) with Search and Rescue (SAR) training missions. Being a boat crew member extends the eyes and ears of the Coast Guard by being a force multiplier. By educating the boating public he helps prevent accidents which saves lives. Another one of the unique opportunities of being located close to Training Center Cape May (TRACEN) is that trained members of the Auxiliary can provide tours of the base to various groups. Ralph began giving tours for local groups at TRACEN which he says “brings out the old teacher in me”.
Certainly, the lifeguard in him is still active as he still works as a lifeguard in the summers for Cape May and volunteers as a lifeguard at TRACEN’s pool. Ralph says it gives him joy meet so many great men and women who are training to become rescue swimmers. He states that the sad part is when the cadets move on to “A” school, he always hates to see them go.
In addition to all of those activities, Ralph is an appointed Flotilla Staff Officer of Operations (FSO-OP) for Flotilla 82 in Cape May. These duties include augmenting the local US Coast Guard unit by performing on-water patrols in the Cape May area of operations. As the FSO-OP, Ralph reports to the flotilla commander and is accountable for a staff of six coxswains and ten boat crew members including himself. His responsibilities include supervision of all flotilla operations programs, including search and rescue (SAR), regatta, safety patrols, and keeping flotilla members informed of all developments in the program. He also ensures ongoing boat crew training and certification and acquisition of personal protection equipment for boat crew members.
As a lifeguard, Navy sailor, Coast Guard Auxiliarist, teacher, husband, father, grandfather and neighbor, Ralph Atwell has consistently provided for the safety and security of those around him at work or home. It seems to be in his DNA. Ralph’s Auxiliary shipmates appreciate those qualities in him. It’s probably not a coincidence that Ralph joined an organization with the motto of “Always Ready”.
Comprised of nearly 24,000 men and women, the USCG Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer component of the Coast Guard. It works within the Coast Guard in carrying out its noncombatant and non-law enforcement missions. Flotilla 82 Cape May was founded on Dec 16, 1943 and is headquartered at 1519 Yacht Avenue in an historic boathouse building acquired in 1890 by the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment, prior to its merger into the U.S. Coast Guard. For over 77 years the flotilla’s members have maintained many traditions of maritime service, the foremost being of service to the U.S. Coast Guard and the boating public in the Cape May coastal community. For more information, please visit: www.cgaux.org.