Long-time local leader Mike Milat, known for his warmth, sharp wit and selfless service to the community, died Friday at his Oak Harbor home.
He was 85.
It seems there was no part of the community Milat didn’t touch.
He served as a city councilman for 24 years and worked as a principal at both Crescent Harbor and Olympic View Elementary Schools.
The proud Rotarian didn’t miss a single Oak Harbor Rotary meeting in half a century.
He attended St. Augustine’s Catholic Church for the 55 years he lived in Oak Harbor.
“He practiced what he preached,” said Brian Jones, a friend and Rotary president. “He was about excellence in education but also service to this community.”
Milat served as mayor pro-tem for 20 years under former mayor Al Koetje.
“He was dedicated to the city and the best interests of the people,” he said. “He was a gentleman who always let you know his opinion.”
The two were known for giving each other friendly verbal jabs at Rotary meetings. “He deserved some of them,” Koetje said with a chuckle.
Milat was born in Yugoslavia (Croatia) in 1929 and immigrated with his family to Anacortes, which boasted a Croatian immigrant community. He didn’t know a word of English when he entered first grade but quickly became bilingual.
He met his wife, Carolyn Lunsford, at a skating rink in Anacortes. He graduated from Anacortes High School in 1947. He skippered his own fishing boat in Alaska and then was drafted to the U.S. Army in 1951 during the Korean Conflict. Later he served in the U.S. Army Reserve, attaining the rank of first lieutenant.
He remained patriotic his entire life, the type of man who stood at attention during parades when the flag passed by, hat off and hand on his heart. His family lovingly nicknamed him “Captain America.”
Milat earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees in education at Western Washington University. He began his teaching career in Oak Harbor in 1958 at Oak Harbor Elementary School and served 30 years as a teacher and principal.
His daughter, Anne Tarrant, said she knew her father was loved and respected by many, but the family recently has received an outpouring of support.
“One thing I appreciated about my father is he loved God, he loved family and he loved his country,” she said. “And along with his family he loved his friends just as much.”
Her father was a humble man, someone who served not for the accolades, but because it was the right thing. He would help anyone who needed it, she said.
“He was a very giving man,” she said. “He would help with any project, big or small.”
Milat was an avid boater. He loved fishing and crabbing. He also was a duck hunter who always had a hunting dog. He enjoyed woodworking and caring for roses in his garden.
Milat is survived by his wife, three children and their spouses as well as many other family and friends.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Oak Harbor Rotary Mike Milat Excellence in Education Scholarship.
See obituary on page A7 of today’s Whidbey News-Times for information about services in memory of Milat.
Interment will be at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent at a later date.