Wayne Gerst sat in one of his many garages at his Severna Park home, pausing from his measured words to mimic his best attempt at a wave in British royalty fashion.
Gerst, owner of Gerst Towing Service, was named grand marshal of the 2023 Severna Park Independence Day Parade, where he’ll have the opportunity to showcase his greeting to the crowd from a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 convertible.
The theme of this year’s annual Fourth of July parade is “Broad Stripes, Bright Stars and Big Hearts.” Event organizers might have had the last two words of the theme in mind when tabbing Gerst to be this year’s parade grand marshal.
“Because of his integrity, generosity and lifelong commitment to our community, Wayne was a natural choice for this year’s grand marshal,” said Liz League, CEO of the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce. “Plus, he is a really great guy.”
Faith, hard work, partner, family, friends, cars and philanthropy are all things that one could associate with Gerst’s priorities. Ingrained in the community is a phrase that could also be used, although it might be an understatement to describe the man who was once referred to as “Mr. Severna Park” in an article headline in this publication.
The Millersville native, and resident of his current home in Severna Park for 37 years, is also a Severna Park High School graduate, Anne Arundel County Community College alum and local businessman for 57 years.
“I’ve got to know a lot of people, made a lot of friends,” Gerst said in a distinctive voice that once you hear it, you’ll likely always recognize it. “It’s a quiet area around here, no riffraff. You always feel safe.”
Although this will be the first year that Gerst serves as parade grand marshal, he’s had a hand in the beloved community event for more than 20 years, whether it’s donating or providing time, land for prep, equipment such as rollback trucks for an emcee platform or vintage vehicles.
“The people and the kids are what keep me coming back,” Gerst said. “People give you thumbs up, holler and just have a good time.”
Since 2001, when Gerst first participated in the parade by just driving through, his involvement has steadily grown, to include lining up the fleet of vintage cars for the parade, volunteering well before sunrise and hosting after-parade cookouts at his spacious property with guest lists in the hundreds and garage doors open for visitors to enjoy Gerst’s personal collection of vintage vehicles — currently numbering 55.
This year, Gerst is focusing on taking in the grand marshal honor, but he’ll still assist with some floats and vehicles.
“It’ll be easier,” quipped Faye Eberhardt, Gerst’s partner and best friend for the past 36 years.
Gerst was raised on a 24-acre farm in Millersville that his parents purchased in the early 1940s and is still there. The value of hard work and honest living were lessons imparted early to him.
He put his first motor in a car before the age of 16 and ran a Sunoco station on Route 3 with his dad, Fred.
“The Gerst gas station was a favorite of my father for a fill-up or car repairs,” League recalled. “During the summer, he would come home after visiting the Gersts and have bags of home-grown corn and veggies.”
But the man now known for his business acumen and fair dealings in the gas, towing and repair realm didn’t always have his eyes on that business.
“What I really wanted to be was a professional ballplayer or a state trooper,” Gerst said.
A hernia at the age of 16, which almost cost Gerst his life, assisted in altering those plans. It also factored into what transpired during a visit of his to Fort Holabird, a now-defunct Army post in Baltimore, for his physical before heading to Vietnam.
“I was packed, ready to go,” Gerst recalled. “Crew-cut, the whole nine yards. I wasn’t going to let them cut my hair off. I cut it before I went.”
Gerst’s hernia prevented him from serving in Vietnam, and he was granted an honorable discharge.
While the hernia kept him from serving his country overseas, it hasn’t slowed him down in serving his community.
“I still love to get in the tow truck and go down the road,” said Gerst, noting that he currently has three generations of the same family — the eldest being a friend that he went to school with — working for him.
It hasn’t stalled Gerst’s penchant for giving back to the community that he cares about, either.
Gerst Towing Service operates out of the farm and property that sits on East West Boulevard in Millersville, just shy of Veterans Highway. In 2016, Gerst donated the back of his farm to Orphan Grain Train, a nonprofit Christian volunteer network that shares personal and material resources with folks of need, both stateside and abroad.
“Orphan Grain Train is a thriving hub because of the space gifted by Wayne,” League said.
Gerst said the rest of his farm will go to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at the time of his death, or perhaps before, where he’s hoping St. Paul’s can build a new school and church.
“The good lord has been good to me, so I’ve been blessed,” Gerst said. “Made some money over the years, saved it, invested some of it, and I’m OK.”
If there’s any doubt to Gerst’s last statement, the skepticism is lifted once his seemingly stuck smile becomes visible as he starts drifting through his labyrinth of garages, each holding vintage cars and other memorabilia, including original seats from Memorial Stadium, the Orioles former home. There are also newspaper clippings, enough car trophies to fill an apartment, citations from local and state government entities, a beer and soda vending machine from the old gas station, political signs from campaigns past and a whole lot more.
Each garage has its own feel to it, its own peek into Gerst’s passions — whether that’s the sheen of the ‘57 Chevy that’s his newest build, with an underside that’s as remarkably impressive and clean as the blue shine of the hood, or the hand-painted mural of the old Sunoco station from so many years ago.
While plenty of memories from the Severna Park Fourth of July parades of years past are prominent in Gerst’s garage displays, he said, with a sly grin, that this year’s grand marshal honor may put 2023 as the one to top them all in his mental scrapbook of parade memories.
“We’ve been to the other parades — Ferndale, Glen Burnie, Linthicum — and Severna Park is the biggest parade of any of them,” Gerst said. “You have people who know how to really organize this. It takes a lot of volunteers and a lot of work.”
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