Profiled in Seton Hall Magazine’s Spring 2014 issue, Joseph Toma '49 is a treasure trove of life experience. Military service, the guidance of an influential mentor, a Seton Hall education, an enduring romance, and entrepreneurship have all shaped him into the man he is today. Here, Toma shares some of his most memorable experiences and lessons learned.
"During WWII, I was deployed on a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter for one-and-a-half years. Our mission was to protect cargo ships on the way to their destination along with the help of Navy Battleship destroyers and U.S. submarines. Our ship was on three-month rotations with two week intervals. At 17, I was the youngest on the ship and was trained as a diesel mechanic."
An Unexpected Learning Experience
"When I was in the Coast Guard, a detonator misfired and threw me and another sailor overboard with only our life jackets. The sailor I was with couldn't stop crying. I said, 'Let’s hook ourselves together!' He didn't want to do it. Finally, he agreed. We turned on my light, and 24
hours later we were picked up in the ocean. I learned when there is a difficult situation, you pull yourself up, trust in God, and do what needs to be done. This is how I live my life. Even with my company, when there was a need, I filled it. When someone needed help, I was there. That's how I live my life."
A Helping Hand
"Father Jarvais was the chaplain at the Coast Guard base in New London, Conn. I was there during WWII and he gave some amazing sermons. I was his altar boy many times at his Masses."
Toma learned that Jarvais was a Seton Hall professor who temporarily left his post to help with the war effort. While working together on the base, the two formed a bond: "He believed in me, got me a job in the commissary and he guided me to Seton Hall University."
Pirate Life Lessons
"My business law teacher, Bill Dineen, taught me how to handle basic business legal issues. While working at Kaiser-Frazer Corp. in Michigan, I employed the concepts that I learned in that class to excel in purchasing aircraft parts. I also learned the value of a strong work ethic and graduated from Seton Hall in three years."
Why Give Back to Your Alma Mater?
"I was given a great education and I have wonderful memories of being at the South Orange campus. One of my memories was sleeping on cots in the gym while we waited for surplus barracks to arrive from Ft. Dix. We couldn't help but make friends fast, we were sleeping just a foot apart. Some friendships lasted a lifetime. And a credit back then was only
$13.25 – a very worthwhile investment!"
A Partner for Life
After graduating from Seton Hall, Toma met his wife, Helen, and the two enjoyed a 62-year marriage until her passing in September 2012.
"I found a loving, honest and loyal spouse who was my best friend and partner. By working together as a real team, we felt that we could do anything. Our strong Christian beliefs contributed to raising a close family and we truly appreciated life together."
After working in defense contracting for several years, Toma decided to start his own business. His advice for would-be entrepreneurs?
"Do not start a business if you are not passionate about the product you will create or the customers you will serve. Knowing everything about the business is your responsibility. Entrepreneurs must be aware of financial risks but it is essential to make bold moves. One must be prepared to work, and one must have a support system at home and a spouse who understands your passion to win. My wife structured an incredible support system for my four children and me."
The Sum of 87 Years
It takes a strong character to achieve one's goals. Toma attributes his success to a combination of traits.
"I had a hunger for knowledge in my industry. I was known for my direct approach and acting with honesty and integrity; I believed in hard work and responsibility and combined it with a competitive spirit."
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