JAY — Flags at half-staff. Yellow ribbons tied around poles. Businesses with signs reading, “Holland Strong, El Faro 33.”

At the Jay Community Building auditorium Wednesday afternoon, hundreds gathered to remember the life of Michael Holland, a merchant mariner from Wilton who was among 33 lost at sea when the cargo ship El Faro sank off the Bahamas this month.

“Why would anyone put themselves through any of this?… Well, simply put, because it’s still worth it. He was worth it,” said Ben Hebert, Holland’s childhood friend. “To know Mike was to love Mike.”

At the celebration of life service held at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, family and friends of the 25-year-old Wilton man were joined by neighbors, community members, Maine Maritime Academy’s president and color guard, relatives of fellow El Faro crew, the president of TOTE Services – owner of the El Faro – as well as Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Thomas Saviello of Wilton.

Deborah Roberts Holland, Holland’s mother, did not speak, but others shared memories.

Hebert remembered Holland as selfless, soft-spoken, laid-back and kind. Throughout what he described as an effortless friendship, Hebert recalled phases of fascination the two shared with tropical fish, Pokemon cards and baseball.

From hunting and fishing to a love of classic rock, country music and his truck, Holland was described as a “hometown boy.” But when he moved from western Maine to Castine to study at Maine Maritime Academy, Holland found a group of fellow students who shared his love for the simpler things.

Ashley Genest, a classmate and close friend of Holland’s, recalled the time she spent with him in Castine. As the wife of one of Holland’s friends, Genest said she was the “tag-along little sister” to many shenanigans, voicing caution even though she knew none of them would listen.

“Mike was fearless. … If you dared him to do something, he would do it,” Genest said.

Genest shared one instance in which Holland and his friends decided to fix up “a yellow redneck school bus.” The idea became a reality, and they decided to take the bus to Boston to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Holland graduated from the academy in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and technology. He got his maritime license through the Coast Guard and served as a merchant mariner for three years as a third assistant engineer – most recently on the El Faro.

Dave Weathers, national vice president of the American Maritime Officers Union, spoke highly of Holland’s service.

Holland “was a good shipmate and a good engineer,” Weathers said. “‘Holland Strong’ — he brought that to TOTE, to El Faro, to the U.S. Merchant Marine Services. Looking at the MMA cadets (in attendance), I could see future Mike Hollands, with big shoes to fill.”

Among the four Mainers lost were Holland; the ship’s captain, Michael Davidson, of Windham; Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland; and Dylan Meklin, 23, of Rockland. A fifth crew member, Mitchell Kuflik, of Brooklyn, New York, graduated from the academy in 2011.

Lauren Abbate can be contacted at 861-9252, or at:

[email protected]