From left, Admiral Linda Fagan, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard; Mayor Teri Johnston; Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Seventh District; City Manager Patti McLauchlin; and Capt. Jason Ingram, commander of Coast Guard Sector Key West participate in the designation ceremony.

“This is a big deal.” 

That’s what Ron Demes, who coordinated Key West’s recent designation as a Coast Guard City, told city and military officials who helped plan the ceremony.

He was spot on.

Hundreds of blue and white Coast Guard and Navy uniforms packed the East Quay Wall at Truman Waterfront the morning of Aug. 4, along with another hundred or so civilians and retired military personnel from all branches.

“This was the first time in anyone’s memory that any military service chief, of any branch, openly addressed the people of Key West,” Demes said, referring to Admiral Linda Fagan, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

In her remarks on Aug. 4, Mayor Teri Johnston emphasized the importance of the day, saying, “You know it’s big when the head of the entire Coast Guard is here.”

Fagan spoke candidly and personally to the crowd, saying, “When I received word of this, I said, ‘What? We haven’t designated Key West as a Coast Guard City yet? Our relationship goes back to 1825 and we’re just doing this now?’ I couldn’t believe it, but I’m thrilled to be here for it.”

On Aug. 4, the Southernmost City became the 30th Coast Guard City, honored for special efforts to acknowledge the work of the Coast Guard in their communities. 

“Making Coast Guard men and women and their families feel at home in their home away from home is an invaluable contribution to morale and service excellence,” states the U.S. Coast Guard website. 

In addition to Admiral Fagan’s visit and comments, Key West’s celebration included words from Johnston and City Manager Patti McLauchlin, along with a special presentation for Demes, who orchestrated the event. Demes said it took “270 hours and about 700 emails” to get the application completed. “I stopped counting after that,” he told the Keys Weekly. “Once approved, it took quite a few hundred more emails and well over 150 more hours to make the ceremony happen.” But the end result was worth the effort.

Following the huge celebration at Truman Waterfront, Demes and Coast Guard personnel also attended a smaller flag-raising ceremony in front of the historic Front Street building that now houses The Shops at Mallory Square. In the 1800s, the U.S. military simply named it “Building 1,” and designated it as Coast Guard headquarters.


An American flag and the U.S. Coast Guard flag are hoisted on Aug. 4 above the historic building that served as Coast Guard headquarters in the 1800s and now house The Shops at Mallory Square. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

As of Aug. 4, Key West joins 29 other cities that have been designated a Coast Guard City: Grand Haven, Michigan; Eureka, California; Mobile, Alabama; Wilmington, North Carolina; Newport, Oregon; Alameda, California; Kodiak, Alaska; Rockland, Maine; Portsmouth, Virginia; Traverse City, Michigan; Astoria, Oregon; Sitka, Alaska; Clearwater, Florida;  Newburyport, Massachusetts; Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin; Camden County, Georgia; Cape May County, New Jersey; Hull, Massachusetts; Ketchikan, Alaska; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; New London, Connecticut; Carteret County, North Carolina; San Diego, California; Florence, Oregon; New York, New York; Chatham County, Georgia; Cordova, Alaska; Westport, Washington; Valdez, Alaska — and now, Key West, Florida.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.