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My Coast Guard
Commentary | May 11, 2023

Honoring CDR Mike Smith (Ret), the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festivals original 'hype man'

By Lorne Thomas III, Chief of External Affairs, Ninth Coast Guard District

The U.S. Coast Guard is honoring one of its most ardent and devoted supporters. Cmdr. Michael J. Smith (USCG, Ret.), the executive director for the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival Committee, crossed the bar on Thursday, April 27, 2023, at his home in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Mike Smith’s passion, dedication and infectious enthusiasm for the service was unequalled. His selfless leadership of the Festival Committee for the past 17 years transformed the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival into the nation’s largest celebration of the Coast Guard and its birthday - drawing 350,000 visitors annually from all over the country. Rightfully so, Grand Haven was the original Coast Guard City and the only one uniquely designated in law as “Coast Guard City U.S.A.”
Mike began his 21 years of distinguished service of active duty upon graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1975. After serving afloat, at staff jobs and operations ashore positions, he began his longtime relationship with the city as the Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Group Grand Haven from 1990 to 1994. Upon his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1996, Mike and his wife Cathy returned to raise their six children in this special community. In addition to contributing to the Festival Committee, Mike immersed himself in several community, education and volunteer services in the region and then began his dream job as the Executive Director of the Festival Committee in 2006. 

Mike’s showmanship, positive energy, and remarkably diverse and patriotic wardrobe all contributed to his character as the Coast Guard’s original “hype man.” His creativity, flair and attention to detail were woven into every event he touched. He conceived and actualized many of the festival’s themes and historical commemorations, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s 75th anniversary in 2014, the Coast Guard’s 215th birthday in 2015 and the service’s aviation centennial in 2016. The festival remembered the 75th anniversary of the loss of the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba in 2018. And in 2019, the event commemorated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard.
Over the last decade, the festival has embraced the Canadian Coast Guard’s contributions to the Great Lakes, and their members and ships have become mainstays of the event.
Mike’s relentless drive and allegiance dramatically enhanced the relationship between the Coast Guard and the “Tri-Cities” communities of Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, and Spring Lake. In addition to the annual festival, the Festival Committee provided year-round recognition and support for service members in western Michigan, including welcome aboard packages, gift cards for families with new babies, family-focused events and holiday parties. The Festival Committee ensured a generous outpouring of relief and assistance was delivered to Coast Guard members impacted by the partial government shutdown of 2018-19.

Michael’s leadership and acts of service to Grand Haven and the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard were recognized with the 2016 Department of Defense Spirit of Hope Award and the Coast Guard’s Distinguished Public Service Award, which Commandant Karl Schultz presented to Mike in 2021.
His remarkable 70 years established an enduring relationship with Coast Guard City U.S.A. and its Coast Guard. His life was recognized and celebrated in Grand Haven on May 8, 2023 where he received full military honors at his funeral. Hundreds of regular, reserve, Auxiliary, civilian and retired Coast Guard members and Tri-Cities citizens paid their respects to Mike, his Coast Guard legacy and a life well-lived.