After he gave a speech detailing the significance of Coast Guard history, including its beginnings 227 years ago, Adm. Paul F. Zukunft became part of that history when the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival Committee presented him with a Coast Guard-themed Hollywood-style star plaque and nameplate embedded in the sidewalk brick off Washington Avenue outside City Hall.
But that wasn't the only surprise of the day for Zukunft and his wife, Fran, who was honored earlier in the day as the “first lady” of the U.S. Coast Guard. The festival committee flew in their son, Brett, from California.
During Friday’s rain-splattered ceremony, after comments from festival director Mike Smith, Brett Zukunft opened and strolled through the doors of City Hall to offer a few words to his parents and the crowd of nearly 100.
“But that's not all,” Smith said several times throughout the surprise-filled event.
He directed the admiral and his family to stroll toward Washington Avenue to unveil the 2017 point on the Walk of Coast Guard History.
“Oh, wow,” Fran said as her husband lifted the cover on the plaque with his name on it.
“I guess we're coming back,” said Zukunft, who has attended every Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival since being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as 25th commandant of the Coast Guard, relieving Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., in May 2014.
Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb read a proclamation, naming the admiral “mayor for a day.” McCaleb said she wouldn't want Zukunft to serve without pay, so she presented him with a check for $8.98 — “one day of mayor pay,” she said.
Zukunft has a humor point of his own. He stood up, motioned to city employees in the bleachers and said, “You have the afternoon off.”
After the ceremony, the admiral said he was completely surprised with the honors and with the appearance by his son, who works for Uber in San Francisco.
“We haven't seen him in a while,” Zukunft said. “It was a total surprise. We didn't know if we would get a chance to see him this summer.”
Zukunft said he can't believe the support Grand Haven leaders and residents show to the Coast Guard.
“This community is just over the top,” he said. “I'm just one of many. They treat every one of the Coast Guard men and women as if they're royalty.”
Zukunft said he's been to Coast Guard celebrations in 20 other towns, and none compare to Grand Haven.
“We just really feel the love and patriotism of this town, and we travel all over the world,” he said.
How will the admiral spend his day as mayor today?
“I'll probably shake a lot of hands and kiss a lot of babies,” he said, laughing. “I'll just be among the crowds enjoying the festival.”