At first glance, Mike Halliday is reticent in his demeanor with kind eyes and an even kinder smile. But after learning of his lifetime of service to his community, local university, and his daily work to honor the legacy of his late wife, it appears there is more to this humble individual than meets the eye.
Halliday grew up at Fort Lewis as two of three boys in a military family. His father was in the army and says because of this he had a unique upbringing, attending 10 different schools in 12 years, as well as spending almost 3 years in Japan. Halliday started attending Saint Martin’s University (SMU) in 1956, a school that would unexpectedly become a huge part of his life long after his freshman year. Perhaps it was his father’s influence, but Halliday left the engineering department early to join the U.S. Coast Guard in 1957. He remained in the military for 23 years, spending the majority of that time on reserve duty in the Northwest.
In 1961, Mike started working for the Department of Highways, finally making Lacey his permanent home in 1969. Set up through a mutual friend, Halliday met his wife Jan in 1978. The two were married in 1979 and spent 28 years together raising two children.
Jan went back to school to receive a degree in criminal justice from SMU in 1980 and had a long career with the Washington State Department of Corrections. Due to Jan’s passion and involvement with the university, Halliday became heavily involved with the SMU Alumni Association. In fact, it’s Mike’s smiling face that greets you on the association’s homepage.
Perhaps one of the Hallidays’ greatest, longest standing accomplishments was the inception of the Capital Food & Wine Festival, a yearly, nonprofit fundraiser that features 100 regional wines, dozens of beers and hard ciders, and attracts thousands of community members in order to raise scholarship money for incoming SMU students. Halliday says the idea was conceived during a trip to Newport, Oregon, where a similar event was taking place. Halliday brought the concept to the alumni association and they had the first festival in 1989. The event, which celebrated its 28th festival last March at Saint Martin’s Hal and Inge Marcus Pavilion, was managed by a mostly-all committee of alumni, friends, university staff, and other members from the community. The planning committee is re-envisioning the festival this year and will relaunch the event in March 2020.
In addition to the festival, Mike also started running the Saint Martin’s food booth in 2001 for the annual Capital Lakefair event, which continually sets records for scholarship funds.
“Last year we set another record,” he says. “For the fifth year in a row, our booth was the highest grossing booth of everyone on the street. We ended up giving $35,000 in scholarships in 2017.”
Mike went on to run the former Walt’s Radiator & Muffler shop in downtown Olympia for many years and says that while he believes formal education is important, there’s no replacement for technical skills.
“I’d like to see more kids get interested in the trades,” he says. “There’s a shortage of people who go into these specialties, like truck driving and auto repair, and there’s a lot of opportunity. Not to mention you’re missing out on learning valuable skills.”
While Halliday is a little tightlipped when speaking about himself, longtime Lacey resident and dear friend, Sandy Jurss, had nothing but good things to say about humble Halliday. Jurss and her family have known Mike and his wife since 1980 when they first moved to the area. The two families spent years together and Mike even became the godfather to Jurss’ daughter.
“He’s just an awesome human being,” Jurss says. “Mike is one of those quiet people who doesn’t like to draw a lot of attention to himself. He’s always had this commitment of selfless service and would never ask anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t be willing to do himself.”
Jurss says Halliday has endured a lot ever since his wife passed away from breast cancer 11 years ago, but that he has remained strong and resolute in his commitment to SMU and the alumni association. The university recognized this as well and his picture was added to the Jan Halliday ’89 Memorial Plaza located on campus in honor of their collective service.
Sadly, Halliday is saying goodbye to the Northwest and will be moving to Arizona this year. Jurss says the community is losing a huge presence and a great person, but she understands Mike is doing what he needs to do.
“I don’t know who’s going to take his place, but they’ve got big shoes to fill!” she says.
A lifelong Harley enthusiast, Halliday says he’s looking forward to long motorcycle rides, warm winters, and the occasional visit back north to visit family and friends.