Retired Coast Guard Cmdr. Mike Smith, the longtime director of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, died on April 27, 2023. Hundreds of people, as well as a Coast Guard honor guard, attended his funeral on Monday, May 8.

Retired Coast Guard Cmdr. Mike Smith, the longtime director of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, died on April 27, 2023. Hundreds of people, as well as a Coast Guard honor guard, attended his funeral on Monday, May 8.   (U.S. Coast Guard/Facebook)

SPRING LAKE, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — There were plenty of tears, but also plenty of smiles and laughter, as family, friends, the community, and members of the U.S. Coast Guard gathered to remember retired Cmdr. Michael J. Smith during his funeral at St. Mary's Catholic Church on Monday morning.

Smith, who served as commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Group Grand Haven from 1990 to 1994, and later was executive director of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival dating back to 2006, died on April 27.

"Dad, Grander, Smitty, Mike, the Commander ... he was truly a larger than life character who treated the most routine events and encounters as meaningful and memorable opportunities for recognition and appreciation," said his son, Matteson Smith, during the eulogy Monday. "His gift giving and party planning are legendary, from his Coast Guard Academy rugby days to our wedding receptions to 16 Coast Guard Festivals and everything in between — he was always continuing to outdo himself at every event.

"If today were up to him, it would feature his signature indoor flares, color-changing LED plastic ice cubes, and patriotic decorations."

There was plenty of patriotism on display Monday. Several retired Coast Guard admirals were in attendance, along with Rear Adm. Jonathan Hickey, who recently took command of the Ninth Coast Guard District, which is responsible for all Coast Guard operations throughout the Great Lakes.

A Coast Guard boat was parked outside the church, and dozens of "Coasties" from Coast Guard Station Grand Haven and Sector Field Office Grand Haven were also in attendance.

The pageantry didn't end there — many people showed up dressed to the nines wearing their red, white and blue in memory of Smith, who was well known around the community for his colorful attire during the Coast Guard Festival.

"His unrivaled ability to navigate between the classy and the tacky led to so many special moments for all of us here today," Matteson joked. "His humor, style and creative gifts brought us all together."

Matteson, a major in the U.S. Army, shared that during a recent change of command ceremony, his dad gave him a personalized caricature drawing.

"Underneath it there was a plaque, and it was engraved, 'To be a man of character you must also be a character of a man.' That was a quote he lived by, and I've always appreciated it," Matteson said.

Smith left behind his wife, Cathy, as well as his six children and 11 grandchildren: Lt. Colonel Maxwell (Cassie) Smith and their kids, Benson and Harrison; Mollie (Alex) Wood and their kids, Claire and Hazel; Moira (Ross) Gray and their kids, Wills, Jacks and Briggs; Maggie Smith, Major Matteson (Erin) Smith and their kids, Finley, Emerson, Madigan and Maeve; and McHale (Katlyn) Smith, who are expecting first child in July.

Maxwell Smith said his dad will always be remembered as a devoted friend and family man, known for zipping around town in his black Jeep.

"In addition to his boundless energy and zest for celebration, we'll also always remember him for his devotion for the community and his family," son Maxwell Smith said. "He was so proud of his service to his local community and our nation, both in uniform and with the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, demonstrated by the mementos completely covering the walls of his office."

"None more special to him than being recognized with the Department of Defense Bob Hope Spirit of Caring Award — a comedian and entertainer who did so much for our military and their families ... I was talking about my dad."

"In closing, we honor our favorite character's character and his legacy by celebrating as much as you can, as often as you can. We love you dad. You really were the grandest. Fair winds and following seas, and we promise to make the most routine events intentional, elaborate and memorable as we honor you every day by celebrating and serving others."

Following the service inside the church, the funeral ceremony moved outside, where hundreds stood huddled against a light drizzling rain, a pair of Coast Guard helicopters flew overhead. A U.S. Coast Guard Honor Guard performed a 21-gun salute, then folded the flag that had been draped over Smith's coffin and presented it to Cathy.

(c)2023 the Grand Haven Tribune (Grand Haven, Mich.)

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