Friends, colleagues remember former Houghton city manager Ray Kestner

State Senator Ed McBroom and State Representatives Greg Markkanen and David Prestin were at a town hall meeting Thursday night.
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 10:00 PM EST
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - Friends and colleagues are remembering former Houghton city manager Ray Kestner, who died on Nov. 7 in Grand Haven at 91 years old.

Born in Houghton in 1932, he graduated from Houghton High School in 1950 and Michigan Tech in 1955. The next 16 years would be a mix of marriage, military service and entrepreneurship.

In 1971, Kestner returned to Houghton as the city’s manager and Director of Public Works. He had big plans for the area, which still had leftover railroad tracks and buildings from the area’s mining days.

“It was all just a wasteland,” said Former City Manager Scott MacInnes. “Nobody ever went down to the waterfront. The M-26 corridor had a landfill, that was about the only thing that was up there, so he had this big vision of all the things he wanted to do, and quite frankly, growing up here, I didn’t think there was enough time or money for anybody to do that.”

Kestner focused on numerous projects, such as the city infrastructure, M-26 and projects like the Ray Kestner Waterfront Park. He was able to afford these projects through State funding.

“He was able to get enormous amounts of grants for Houghton,” continued MacInnes. “He had an engineering background; he knew how to plan projects. We always had projects ready to go whenever grants were available, and he was able to capitalize and use whatever money we had.”

Those who worked for Kestner recall him as a very driven individual.

“He was very social,” said Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly. “He was going to push you. He demanded a lot and expected a lot, but then, he got a lot. He was a leader.”

Kestner’s work earned him several awards, like the Michigan Tech Distinguished Service Award in 1988 and the Rotary Community Service Award in 1989. Those who knew him say he would want people to enjoy Houghton and continue to help the city grow.