Eighteen iconic figures in the rich maritime history of the Door Peninsula and three local Coast Guardsmen were honored at the annual Mariner Award Dinner held at the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club on Tuesday evening, August 7.

A joint effort by the Door County Maritime Museum and Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club, the Mariner Award is presented annually to recognize individuals who have had significant, positive and lasting impact on the Door County maritime community.  One living and at least one deceased recipient are honored each year. The living nominees for the 2018 Mariner Award were Martha Burress, Dennis Hickey, Bill Parsons, Ken Schmidke, William “Curly” Selvick, Leathem “Tim” Stearn, Todd Thayse, Joel & Mary Ann Blahnik and Bill Schoendorf. Nominees in the posthumous award category were Clifford B. Hart, Ingar Olsen, George K. Pinney, John Thenell, Arthur Zuehlke, Increase Claflin, Col. John Miller, W.F. Wickman and Asa Thorpe.

Nominees for the Sturgeon Bay Area Coast Guard Person of the Year were also honored at the dinner.  Sponsored by the City of Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard Committee, Greater Green Bay Council of U.S. Navy League and Door County Maritime Museum, this award recognized a local active duty Coast Guardsman who exemplifies the Coast Guard’s core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty. The honoree is selected from among nominees submitted by the three local Coast Guard units—USCGC Mobile Bay, Marine Safety Detachment Sturgeon Bay and the Canal Station. All nominees were recognized and the winner was announced at the award dinner.


This year’s nominees were:

  • Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Tarker, USCGC Mobile Bay
  • Marine Science Technician 1st Class Harold Rissman, USCG Marine Safety Detachment
  • Petty Officer Robert Walsh, Coast Guard Canal Station Sturgeon Bay

The 2018 Mariner Award recognizing a living nominee went to Ken Schmidtke. Schmidtke’s pride to the shipbuilding craft and dedication to the Door County Maritime Museum has been nothing short of remarkable. Schmidtke’s decades in the shipyards exemplifies the thousands of shipyards workers that helped to produce Sturgeon Bay’s amazing shipbuilding legacy. Recently retired from the museum, Schmidtke was more than a museum docent. He was a jack-of-all-trades, putting his woodworking skills to use to help build new exhibits as well as pieces for the ever-popular children’s boating-building activity at the annual Door County Classic and Wooden Boat Festival. But it’s been as a volunteer where Schmidtke has and will continue to leave his mark at the museum. Schmidtke has spent countless hours sharing his shipbuilding knowledge with the thousands of visitors that have visited the Sturgeon Bay museum. He has provided an in-depth, first-hand look of what it is to be a shipbuilder.

Posthumous honors went to local maritime legends, Ingar Olsen and George K. Pinney. Olsen and Pinney were added to the impressive Mariner Award plaque that is prominently displayed on the second floor of the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay.

Ingar Olsen was a “storm warrior” of one of Door County’s three historic United States Life-Saving Service Stations. Olsen was awarded the coveted Gold Lifesaving Medal by Congress for special bravery for a dramatic rescue in 1893. In 1896, Olsen was appointed the first Keeper at the new Life-Saving Station on Plum Island. George K. Pinney was a proud descendant of one Sturgeon Bay’s prominent pioneer families, few have done more to make the pristine local waters accessible to visitors to Door County. As Director of the Door County Parks System, George was instrumental in expanding and improving the parks system, with a clear focus on ensuring public water access and expanding understanding of the area’s rich maritime history and heritage.

Petty Officer First Class Harold Rissman was this year’s Coast Guard Person of the Year. As Marine Safety Detachment Sturgeon Bay’s most senior enlisted member, MST1 Rissman is responsible for the safety and security oversight of 27 regulated waterfront facilities, which generate millions of dollars for the local economy each year. He effectively and efficiently ensures that each facility is safe and secure, meticulously conducting over 340 facility inspections. Additionally, MST1 Rissman is the primary Coast Guard pollution responder for more than 300 miles of coastline. He responded to over 30 oil spills recovering or mitigating more than 8,000 gallons of oil and pollutants. This included the Algoma Harbor Fire, which engulfed 5 vessels and caused over one million dollars in damage to the nearby marina. On his off-duty time MST1 Rissman organized a highway clean-up effort along a stretch of State Highway 57, removing trash and ensuring the aesthetic beauty of Northern Door County; volunteered as an elementary and middle school basketball coach; and has been an annual volunteer for the damage control trainer at the Door County Classic & Wooden Boat Festival.

The Coast Guard Person of the Year and Mariner Award dinner was part of the annual “Sturgeon Bay Maritime Week: A Salute to the United States Coast Guard”.  The festival brings together many long-standing annual events along with new and exciting activities to celebrate the area’s rich maritime heritage and to honor local Coast Guard units.