Retiring Commissioner Mike Ahrenius doesn’t measure his service at the Port of Friday Harbor in years, but the number of friendships he’s made along the way.
“I will miss the people who work down there, the ones past and present,” he said. “It is a great group.”
Ahrenius joined that group in 2002 when he won the first of what would be three consecutive six-year terms on the port’s commission. He resigned about two years before the end of his final stretch to allow the port to purchase his business.
His service followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Nourdine Jensen, who Ahrenius said was one of the first Friday Harbor Port Commissioners in the early 1950s. It was at the family business — Jensen’s Boat Yard and Marina — where Ahrenius landed his first island job in 1989.
“I knew nothing about boats,” he said.
He learned through “osmosis,” he explained, by “watching and standing out of the way.” While mainly a manager, he said he’s also done minor boat repairs.
When his daughter recently decided to leave the company, he and his wife Jeri looked to the port’s staff to take over the nearly century-old family business.
“Port districts have the tools and ability to keep marinas like this functioning and prospering, where it’s becoming more and more difficult for the private person,” he said.
When staff and commissioners agreed to look into the shipyard’s acquisition, Ahrenius opted to resign, on the spot, to avoid a conflict of interest. Graham “Gib” Black was appointed by the current commissioners to fill the remainder of Ahrenius’ term on Nov. 8. An election will be held in 2019 to fill the seat for the next six years, starting in 2020.
With almost 16 years at the port, Ahrenius has seen additions to the marina’s slips, upgrades to its electrical supply system, a new Spring Street Landing building, and a new lighting system at the airport.
He even served on the executive committee of Washington’s port coordinating agency for five years and as president for one. The Washington Public Ports Association initiates studies and promotions of ports across the state, among other duties, which Ahrenius said gave him a thorough understanding of port districts’ operations.
“It was a chance for [the staff of] a medium-size port like Friday Harbor to get to know large ports like Seattle and Tacoma, down to the tiniest little port in Eastern Washington that may just have one employee,” he said. Ports in Eastern Washington, like in Franklin County, for instance, are on the Columbia River.
In the future, he’d like the Port of Friday Harbor to stay just as it is.
“I hope they continue to do what they have been doing — grow and ensure that the public and commerce have access to the water and keep our airport up and running,” said Ahrenius.
Harbormaster Tami Hayes has worked with Ahrenius throughout his entire port term.
“What I will miss…is his unending staff support, good humor [and] incredible fairness, no-nonsense approach,” she said.
At the Nov. 29 port meeting, Hayes read a resolution, declaring the date “Mike Ahrenius Day” and advising him and Jeri to never be strangers.
“Remember,” she said, “when you drive down to the bottom of Spring, take a left onto Front, down to the end of the street, and stop back up and say hello.”