Mato Anton "Mike" Soljan was a boat owner and captain who made his living in Biloxi, Mississippi. Born in 1898, Soljan was an immigrant who arrived in the United States by way of Galveston, Texas. He spent seven years as a seaman, working as a cook aboard the Augusta Foherozogno. Upon reaching Galveston, he took work in a restaurant for a few years before journeying to Biloxi to work in the prosperous seafood industry. Arriving in Biloxi in 1923, he took work on the Julia, a schooner Captained by his close friend, Frank Kovacevich. Kovacevich himself was an immigrant from Straigrad, on the Island of Havar in Croatia.
Soljan entered the industry at a time where the seafood business was still dominated by sail driven schooners. In 1938, Mike acquired his own boat, a 34-foot Biloxi lugger, and named it Delores S, after his youngest daughter. By 1945, he had another boat in his possession and named it the Michael S after his youngest son. The family made their home at 1804 East Howard Avenue; unfortunately, the 1947 hurricane dealt them a critical blow, destroying both their home and their boats. Soljan then moved his family to Bellingham, Washington to work in the tuna industry, while his oldest daughter remained on the coast, managing a grocery store on Oak Street.
Within a year, Soljan returned to Biloxi and rebuilt his house at 1804 East Howard Avenue. Shortly after this, he found work through the Seacoast Packing Co. and was granted a captain position on the Seacoast No. 2. After many years of serving as the boat’s captain, he was given Seacoast No. 3 as well. Following this, he worked for Seacoast for four more years and then took a position as a captain for Cruso Canning and Packing, where he worked for the next decade. Over those ten years, he captained the P.T. Kettering and the Jane E. He then captained the Catherine Pitalo for three years for the Pitalo family.
In the later years of his life, Captain Mike continued making his life upon the sea. In 1960, he purchased a 38’ Biloxi lugger named the Betty Ann from a retiring shrimper. He renamed the boat Peggy Rae after his granddaughter and spent his later years shrimping and dredging oysters. Soljan worked until he was seventy years old, at which point in time, his oldest son Raymond took over as captain. Mato Anton Soljan passed away from cancer on March 11, 1971. From humble beginnings as an immigrant cook, Soljan found his livelihood in Biloxi and stood up against numerous adversities. He is remembered as both a captain of numerous vessels and a loving father.