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On Island Profile: Vernon Mars


May 8, 2005 – Vernon Mars says, "I like being versatile. You have to be versatile."
In this age of the specialist, Mars might be one of a dying breed.
He was born in Trinidad in 1938 and since then there hasn't been much that he hasn't tried his hand at. He has been a taxi cab driver, a pipe-fitter, a fisherman. He has built two houses. He is familiar with plumbing and electrical wiring. And on the side, he became a bit of a pool shark.
It could have been those early days in Trinidad that motivated him to learn and do so much. He says, "Those days were very very hard. I was doing whatever job I could do."
His first break that pointed him toward St. Croix came in 1968. Contractors were on Trinidad looking for workers to help build the Hess Oil refinery on St. Croix. He had done some work at the Texaco refinery on Trinidad. It had only been seasonal work, but it gave him the in he needed, and he was selected as a pipe-fitter to come to St. Croix.
He says, "I came alone, like I was a pioneer. It was a step-by-step process."
Later on Baby, who he married in 1960, would come. Then the seven children all born in Trinidad would come even later. Nothing at that point was definite, and after construction of the refinery was complete he was laid off.
There were concerns with the Immigration Department, trips back and forth between Trinidad and St. Croix, but then he managed to work out everything and get a job as a security officer at the refinery.
After he did that for two years, he became a process operator.
In the meantime he was driving a cab in his off hours. He had been a cab driver in Trinidad. In 1975 he built the house he still lives in on Hermon Hill. He says, "I was going from job to here to back, always on the go."
All this did not stop him from sharpening his skills on the pool tables at St. Croix bars and at the refinery's recreation room.
In 1979 he had some differences with his bosses at the refinery and he was fired. This forced him to take his family and move to Louisiana.
He worked at a BASF chemical plant from 1979 to 1983. He was involved in making the material that was transformed into dashboards in cars and trucks.
While there he took his pool playing to another level when he began competing in eight-hour tournaments that attracted pool players from all over the state of Louisiana. Often there were over a hundred competitors. He did very well, and he line of trophies in his Hermon Hill living room is a testament to just how well.
In 1983 that company ran into problems and he, along with about 800 other workers, was laid off.
He started talking with the management at the then Hess refinery again. They admitted they had made a "wrong decision" in letting him go. They offered him his old job back. He took it and by 1989 made it to supervisor.
He began building a second house beside his in 1992. The three-story, three apartment structure was finished in 1996. He expected some of his children to come back and live near him. However, all those who had finished their schooling in the states were staying there, so he became a landlord.
He doesn't appear to regret anything he has done. He says, "Life is a struggle. You win one and move onto the next."
He says right now, after a bit of a struggle with a health problem, he is looking for a little more quiet in his life. "Then, maybe I will go on to something else. Maybe I will become a multi-millionaire," he laughs.
His wife contributes to his well-being by taking care of a variety of vegetable plants and fruit trees in the back yard. When she harvests more than they can handle, it is not a problem. She graciously gives them out to her neighbors.
He is happy to be living on St. Croix. He says, "We have beautiful beaches. The only thing is the government does not run things properly."
However, he adds, speaking about the government, "They don't worry me. I don't worry them."
Does he have a plan for the future? "You know catching crabs is real fun. You get your wife. My wife will come along. We will catch bucketfuls."
Recently, one of his sons, Ronnie, did return to St. Croix to live. He is the chef at Off the Wall restaurant.


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