Commander Michael J. Smith, (U.S. Coast Guard, Retired), passed away on Thursday, April 27, 2023, at his home in Grand Haven, MI. Mike was a selfless community leader who will be remembered for his humor, style, generosity, and devotion to his family and the U.S. Coast Guard. He was born on February 16, 1953, to the late Henry and Dorothy (Otto) Smith, and lived most of his childhood years in Bogota, New Jersey.
After graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1975, Mike began his 21 years of distinguished service which included travel to multiple locations around the world – serving aboard cutters, commanding search and rescue teams, guiding and mentoring cadets, serving on presidential inauguration committees, earning a master’s degree in public relations from The Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and leading Auxiliary volunteers.
It was Coast Guard service that connected Mike to Grand Haven, first as a visiting cadet in 1972, and then, as the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Group Grand Haven, from 1990 to 1994. Upon his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1996, Mike and Cathy returned to raise their six children in this special community. He continued to serve others in various capacities–as the Director of Grand Haven Community Education, the Director of Volunteer Services at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, and finally, in 2006, when he began his dream job as the Executive Director of the U.S. Coast Guard Festival, enhancing the relationship between the Tri-Cities community and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Mike exuded passion and energy, connecting with others while zipping around town in his beloved black Jeep to attend community meetings or to drop off special gifts to “framily.” Michael’s zest for celebrations 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 2021 Distinguished Public Service Award presented by the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.
His remarkable 70 years were highlighted with the love and adventures spent with his wife of 44 years, Cathy, and his family. “Grander’s” commitment to his country and family were proudly displayed through his sleeve of patriotic tattoos featuring 11 nautical flags in honor of each of his grandchildren.
Mike “Smitty” is survived by his loving wife, Cathy; his beloved children, Lt. Colonel Maxwell (Cassie) Smith (Benson & Harrison), Mollie (Alex) Wood (Claire & Hazel), Moira (Ross) Gray (Wills, Jacks & Briggs), Maggie Smith, Major Matteson (Erin) Smith (Finley, Emerson, Madigan, & Maeve), and McHale (Katlyn) Smith (expecting first child in July). Also surviving are his brother, John (Julia) Smith; two sisters, Barbara (Tom) Farrell and Joanne (Thomas) Vanak; as well as several nieces and nephews.
A Catholic Memorial Mass for Mike will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, May 8, 2023 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Spring Lake with Fr. William Vander Werff officiating. Full Military Honors to be performed by the U.S. Coast Guard. All are invited to meet the family on Sunday, May 7, 2023, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Klaassen Family Funeral Home. Guests are encouraged to wear red, white, and blue attire to both celebrations to honor Mike’s patriotic style.
In lieu of flowers, Memorial Contributions may be made to the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival.