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Art Mikelsen’s impact extended to many
It’s a quiet ping, smooth and steady. It often is accompanied by the smile of a child when it leads to a hit.
The volume represents the quiet happiness of Little Leaguers — and is worlds away from what Art Mikelsen experienced more than 60 years ago.
Mikelsen, who did not wake up from a nap Aug. 30 at Stafford Healthcare at Ridgemont in Port Orchard, was best-known locally as district’s Little League administrator, but his impact extended beyond that role.
The longtime Port Orchard resident, who was 90 years old, served with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, a ski troop based in Italy, and he was wounded three times and was awarded three Purple Hearts. Mikelsen also earned three Bronze Stars — one for valor — the WWII Combat Infantry Badge, a WWII Victory Medal and an Army of Occupation Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal.
When he was injured by shrapnel, Mikelsen said the medical staff just pulled it all out, dumped sulfate in and sent you back up to the front. Later, he suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach.
“I’m damn lucky,” he said in a 2012 interview. “There were too many of my buddies that didn’t get out. I was running from foxhole to foxhole to resupply my ammo. They get blown up and their bloody bodies are splattering next to you and you survive. Why?”
It was a question Mikelsen often asked himself. He then made a promise.
“There were a couple times where I told God, ‘If you get me out of this I’m going to go home and do something good,’ ” he said. “I live to that commitment.”
After the Japanese surrendered, Mikelsen returned to area, taking a job at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where he worked as a nuclear planner and estimator supervisor until his retirement in 1980. And he wasn’t alone — he and wife Alice will celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary this year.
It also was time to find hobby. “Anything too noisy was out of the question,” Mikelsen said. “It didn’t take much more than a car backfiring. You hear a noise like that and you look for cover.”
A hit. A blow. Another night in pain.
Perhaps even a death or maybe several. It all was too much for Mikelsen. Hunting, once a favored activity, was no longer in consideration, and not just because the decibel reading a rifle produces.
“I lost interest after I came back from the service,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in doing much killing.”
So Mikelsen, who graduated from South Kitsap Union High School in 1942, returned to baseball. He said he presided over a local semipro league in the late 1940s that featured teams from Olympia, Shelton, Silverdale, Port Orchard, Poulsbo, Port Townsend and Port Angeles.
Travel, particularly to the Olympic Peninsula in an era before the Hood Canal Bridge was built in 1961, was difficult. He said the league had to make arrangements with the boat owner to get over and back, sometimes around 1 a.m. Involvement in the league had its advantages, though.
“I pitched in that semipro league and played in the outfield,” he said. “I wasn’t a good ballplayer, but I was in charge, so I got to play once in awhile.”
At the same time, Mikelsen was busy as the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization and said Al Farmer, who gave him a booklet called, “This is Little League”, approached him in 1950.
“I looked at that thing and I said, ‘Geez, this is something we’ve never had around here,’ ” he said. “The only things we ever had here were intramural programs up in the school and one American Legion team.”
The first local Little League games began in 1951 and six years later, Mikelsen was elected district administrator — a position he held until he retired in 2008. When he started Little League in the area, the only others in the state were in Kirkland and Richland. Until his retirement, Mikelsen was the only administrator District 2 ever had.
District 2 consists of several chapters — Bainbridge Island, East Jefferson, Gig Harbor American, Gig Harbor National, North Mason, Port Townsend, Sequim, South Jefferson, South Kitsap Eastern, South Kitsap Southern, South Kitsap Western and West Central.
Before Mikelsen’s retirement, SK Western president Bob Showers lauded Mikelsen’s commitment to maintain a successful district.
“I think he’s really molded District 2 into one of the best districts in the state,” Showers said. “He follows the rules, he expects everyone to do the rules and he tells you upfront what he expects out of you. He makes us stick to the rules and I think that’s what makes District 2 so successful.”
It still is no comparison to the early years of Little League when he said the Cascade Mountains divided the state’s two districts, which left him in control of Western Washington.
“As a district administrator, I had to come home from work and hit the highway down to Chehalis or Vancouver and speak to those people,” he said. “Then I would come home and go to work the next day.”
The time commitment left him with one regret.
“The whole program all these years has been hardest on my family because you have to give up a heck of a lot,” said Mikelsen, who had three children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “A lot of times family would have gatherings and you couldn’t be there, so it’s been harder on my wife and the family.”
Mikelsen’s service extended beyond Little League. He also was a Port Orchard city councilman after completing his duty. Mikelsen said his greatest achievement in that role — or perhaps any — was getting water fluorinated.
“We got together with all of the dentists in the community and they were very supportive,” he said. “The opponents brought in people saying if we drank the water, we would all die. I would consider that my greatest accomplishment in doing well for the community. There’s a lot of kids that have pretty good teeth as long as they went to the dentist and did their jobs.”
That is just one example of why Mikelsen is passionate about being involved in the community.
“If people weren’t there to volunteer, we wouldn’t have anything,” he said. “Somebody has to do it.”
As an example, Mikelsen often reflected on his childhood teams that played on South Kitsap’s dilapidated fields.
“I was the only boy in the family in Banner,” he said. “I used to play out in the cow pastures. Whenever I was going to get a baseball, I would either sew the baseball or tape it up. Same thing when you had a broken bat.”
Facilities and involvement in youth sports now receive much more attention. The first of many accolades Mikelsen received came in 1978 when Port Orchard named a field in his honor.
“That was pretty nice,” said Mikelsen, who also has thrown out the first pitch for the Seattle Mariners, including the team’s home opener in 2003 to honor his military and Little League service. “I always said, ‘By golly, you’ve got a field named after you before you died. Usually, it’s a memorial. ’ ”
When Mikelsen reflected on his life — whether it derives from a ping or a violent explosion — he said he hoped people remember him for one thing.
“I probably did what I promised to do during the war,” he said.