Women’s History Month: “Coast Guard Mary” offers warm food, heart to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Coast Guard

"Coast Guard Mary" Lekanoff and the crew of Marine Safety Detachment Dutch Harbor, Alaska, gather during one of Lekanoff's many visits to the unit Feb. 17, 2015.  Lekanoff has provided support and warm meals for Coast Guard members in Dutch Harbor since 1973.  U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by MSD Dutch Harbor.

“Coast Guard Mary” Lekanoff and the crew of Marine Safety Detachment Dutch Harbor, Alaska, gather during one of Lekanoff’s many visits to the unit Feb. 17, 2015. Lekanoff has provided support and warm meals for Coast Guard members in Dutch Harbor since 1973. U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by MSD Dutch Harbor.

Near the top of the world and 600 miles from any major shipping ports, is the Alaskan town of Unalaska, home to U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Dutch Harbor. The seven-man crew of MSD Dutch Harbor is responsible for regulatory oversight and enforcement of vessel, facility and waterway federal laws and regulations  and manages safety enforcement for the largest fishing port in the United States, but they couldn’t do it without a little support. Fortunately for them, they have “Coast Guard Mary.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is made up a lot more than a bunch of men and women in blue, but the service relies on more than the exceptional contributions of its civilian employees. The support of family members also factors heavily into the success of our missions, and Mary Lekanoff, aka Coast Guard Mary, has been family to more than a few Coast Guard members throughout the years.

Lekanoff, an Unalaska native, began her relationship with the Coast Guard in 1973 when she walked into the World War II-era building that served as the Coast Guard facility and introduced herself to the personnel within. She got to know the Coast Guard members passing through Dutch Harbor and has continued that tradition ever since by visiting the members of MSD Dutch Harbor and the crews of the occasional Coast Guard cutter that stops in port.

“One of my favorite memories was with the Coast Guard Cutter Yocona,” said Lekanoff. “Every time the cutter would come in, I would meet them at the dock and basically be like an adopted mom to them. They would always invite me aboard the boat and I spent a bit of time with them.”

Coast Guard members new to Dutch Harbor can count on more than cookies and kind words from Lekanoff though. As a terrific source of local knowledge Coast Guard Mary is the go-to guide for everything the small community has to offer. Unalaska may not have all the hustle or convenience of a large city, but Lekanoff knows all the best places and times for fishing, hiking, berry-picking and community events to keep members occupied on the isolated island. She also assists the crew in other ways like helping to care for their morale boat and inviting them over to her home for holidays.

“We’ve had a lot of great times with Mary,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Adrien-Paul Lively, a marine science technician stationed at MSD Dutch Harbor. “We came back into the office one day after doing a 4-hour-long port state control exam, and our plan was to get out of our dry suits and hit up a local restaurant.I walked into the office, took a whiff and immediately said ‘man it smells like home cooking in here.’”

Coast Guard Mary had struck again. Lekanoff had prepared a massive home-cooked spaghetti and meatballs dinner for the crew.

“I couldn’t tell you how happy we all were to have an amazing home cooked meal after that long day,” said Lively.

"Coast Guard Mary" Lekanoff meets Vice Adm. Charles Ray, Pacific Area commander, during his visit to Marine Safety Detachment Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Feb. 17, 2015.  Lekanoff has been awarded two letters of recoognition by the Coast Guard for her selfless contributions to the unit.  U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by MSD Dutch Harbor.

“Coast Guard Mary” Lekanoff meets Vice Adm. Charles Ray, Pacific Area commander, during his visit to Marine Safety Detachment Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Feb. 17, 2015. Lekanoff has been awarded two letters of recognition by the Coast Guard for her selfless contributions to the unit. U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by MSD Dutch Harbor.

Lekanoff never asks for anything in return for her service, but that doesn’t mean her contributions have gone unrewarded. Crewmembers from Dutch Harbor regularly visit Lekanoff’s home to drop off flowers or chat, and it isn’t uncommon to see a Coastie running alongside her on a treadmill at the gym. Aside from the personal touches though, Lekanoff has been formally rewarded with two letters of recognition from the Coast Guard and often receives visits from admirals and other Coast Guard VIPs who stop through Dutch Harbor.

“I do this because I feel the Coast Guard deserves it and I love doing it for them,” said Lekanoff. “This way they feel at home and have some enjoyment when they are so far away from loved ones. I basically just like to help out and make the new guys feel at home while they are here.”

For the Coast Guard at large, Coast Guard Mary is a shining example of the tremendous and important family support our members rely on to accomplish their missions. No doubt the crew at MSD Dutch Harbor would agree that Unalaska would seem a colder, lonelier place without her.

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