Remembering Mikel Swinton by Mike Yoakum

09 May Remembering Mikel Swinton by Mike Yoakum

Remarks by Mike Yoakum, former Water Festival Commodore, at Mikel Swinton’s funeral Thursday, May 5, 2016:

Good Morning everyone.

I have been asked by Mikel’s family to speak about his relationship with WATER FESTIVAL. You all should be very happy that I was not asked to speak about him on a more personal level or we could be in for a very long day. I hope that my remarks will help those outside of the WATER FESTIVAL family to better understand why Mikel was important to us. Even more importantly, I hope that I am able to effectively pass along the feelings of that same WATER FESTIVAL family accurately and appropriately.

In order to try to explain Mikel’s relationship with WATER FESTIVAL I need to first offer some definition as to what WATER FESTIVAL is.

To most people in the community, it is an event. Ten days or more of activities designed to enhance our community. We, as a group, are proud to say we generally accomplish that goal. That is the simple side of WATER FESTIVAL.

To those of us who are part of WATER FESTIVAL it is much more. Each of us came to WATER FESTIVAL as a volunteer. We were welcomed aboard by those who were part of WATER FESTIVAL ahead of us and now we continue to welcome aboard new family members on a regular basis.

What we found in a very short period of time after volunteering is that working as close with one another as is required, we also would become friends. Friendship led to a feeling of family. To be sure, like any other family, we have had our share of squabbles and disagreements but the underlying reality is that once you are part of a family, you remain a part. Distant or close, happy with one another or unhappy with one another, it does not matter. We are a family united by a common thread.

When Mikel came to WATER FESTIVAL in 1984, seven or eight years ahead of me, he found the same thing I found. He found a sense of purpose and he found a sense of belonging. He found within WATER FESTIVAL a sense of family. He found friends that he counted as family. With his own family so far away as to make regular visits difficult and the cost of long distance phone calls way back then he did what he was so good at: he cultivated those friendships.

On a personal level Mikel was counted as a member of my family who will be missed by three generations.

Mikel’s WATER FESTIVAL family adopted him as one of our own. As in most families, when a member has a need, the family does what it can to meet that need. In Mikel’s case, I am proud to say that his WATER FESTIVAL family was always somewhere close by whenever he needed them.

I am equally proud that we were instrumental in helping achieve his biggest dream: his home. While WATER FESTIVAL did not fund it, we, as a group, were the ones who helped get him on the Habitat for Humanity list. Credit for the home belongs to Mr. John Perrill and Mr. Jesse Schaudies. They were responsible for getting him approved. Once approved his WATER FESTIVAL family stepped up and Mikel’s home went from foundation to floor to walls to siding to roof in two weekends. I am proud to say we, as a family, did what was needed, when it was needed and we did it for our friend and family member.

Mikel’s WATER FESTIVAL story could easily have ended with the construction of his home but for him that would have been like becoming an orphan. Over the years I have lost track of how many times I asked if he was ready to ‘retire’ from WATER FESTIVAL and I was always met with the same reply: After this year. I have to admit that my retirement question was usually out of fear that somewhere along the line the newest group of Festival volunteers would quit caring about him and he would be hurt. To my Festival friends and family, I apologize for ever doubting you. My fears were never realized.


Being Mikel’s friend, whether through WATER FESTIVAL or happenstance, brought with it certain responsibilities. They were the same responsibilities he imposed on himself in order to be your friend. You had to be honest with him since would always be honest with you. You had to be fair with him as he was going to be fair with you. You had to respect Mikel for he was always going to respect you. You had to care about him because he was always going to care about you. In other words, being Mikel’s friend had the effect of making you a better person, if only by a little bit. In Mikel’s company you had to become the kind of person you always knew you could be. Mikel had a way of making you take your conversation and thoughts and deeds to a simple form; something we often forget how to do.

WATER FESTIVAL for Mikel was also a vehicle into a world of people he may never have known and sadly, would have never known him. I believe that we enriched his life nearly as much as he enriched ours. Speaking for myself, and likely for most of you, I believe knowing Mikel and spending time with him over the years will help erase some of the negative marks in the file kept by Saint Peter that has my name on it.


I have no doubt we could all spend the rest of the day telling Mikel stories. At the end of each story two things would be obvious. First, any time he was asked “how are you doing” the reply, except once, never changed. He was always “fine”. Second, after all those stories are said and done, we will note that we were a better person because of the time spent with Mikel.

Nearly two weeks ago it was my sad duty to inform Mikel’s WATER FESTIVAL family through our Tell Erin communication system that Mikel was not doing well and had been admitted to Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Mikel at that time had been the recipient of the caring and generosity of his FESTIVAL family for nearly a month by virtue of making certain he had the company of friends and food already prepared so he would not have to exert the extra energy needed to cook for himself as he battled cancer.

In my message to Erin at the beginning of Mikel’s end I included a few verses of scripture from the book of Matthew that I always felt appropriate when it came to Mikel. I do not mean to infer that in any way he was ever thought of as the least among us, I only mean this in the manner that we have been commanded by our Lord to take care of one another and to love one another.


From the book of Matthew, the 25th chapter:


34    Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

35    For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

36    I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37    Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

38    When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?

39    When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40   The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’


Mikel, I suspect you are somewhere sitting in the driver’s seat of your heavenly truck watching every one of us talk about you. I can see the grin on your face as plainly as I see daylight outside. I can only say for those of us gathered here remembering you that we are grateful to you for accepting the friendship we offered and we are grateful in return for the friendship you gave each of us.


Featured photo credit: the Beaufort Gazette