“The importance of education was always stressed growing up in my home,” says retired educator and veteran, Mary C. Fowlkes. She effectively pursued both a college education and military service as dual careers. During her first teaching assignment, she joined the United States Coast Guard Reserves in 1983. Successfully moving through the ranks, in 2008, she became the first African-American female U.S. Coast Guard reservist, as a Storekeeper, to obtain the rank of U.S. Coast Guard Reserve Master Chief (E- 9) and the second African-American female reservist to obtain the rank of Master Chief.
Particularly notable, Mary was the first African-American female deployed to Desert Shield/Storm by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1990. “In my life I always wanted to accomplish two things, to be an educator and to serve my country. I did not have to compromise my goals to achieve either.”
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mary is a 1971 Riverside University High School(RUHS) graduate. That same year, she enrolled in the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh and earned a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education with honors in 1975. She earned a Master of Science Degree in Education from Louis University in Evanston, Illinois in 1985.
Mary’s mother and two sisters are retired educators and one of her career paths aligned perfectly with theirs when she embarked as an educator, in 1975, to teach at Horlick High School in Racine, Wisconsin. In 1986, she began teaching in Milwaukee Public Schools at Jackie Robinson Middle School and transferred to Riverside University High School, her alma mater, in 1991.
Displaying a wealth of dedication and involvement with RUHS students, in 2012, she assisted Habitat for Humanity in building a home with funds raised by the student council. She chaperoned students for tours to historically black colleges and universities and, even now, continues chaperoning field trips.
Rewards resulted from both her educator and military career commitments. Selected for the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program in 2006, Mary and other United States educators and administrators participated in a study tour of Japan. Most importantly, she received the Coast Guard Achievement Medal in 2009 before retiring from the military in 2011, after 23 years of service. “You cannot be the very best in serving unless you require excellence of yourself,” she said. “Performing at a level of excellence allows you to realize full potential and reap benefits.”
In retirement, she continues to serve by volunteering her expertise and funds. She financially contributes to the USO and the Women Veterans Foundation. A member of the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) Council, she has participated with the military honor guard at parades and other military functions and has served on the Coast Guard Reserve Awards Panel. Working through Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; she developed leadership activities for active duty and reserve members, produced displays on diversity, participated in college and job fairs representing the Coast Guard, and accompanied theSector
Commander to a Girl Scout Career Fair educating scouts on opportunities in the Coast Guard,
As a member of the Chief Petty Officers Association, she seeks needy families to receive Holiday Gift Cards. Most recently, she began pursuing volunteer work for Sojourner Family Peace Center and the Jewish Community Food Pantry.
Although Mary credits the military with affording her the opportunity to learn and demonstrate leadership skills, to serve her country, take advantage of its many benefits and meet great people, she acknowledges a higher power at work in her life by affirming, “I could not be where I am today without God’s mercy and grace.