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Mailman Mike

 Photo Barb Miner Who’s that guy with the antigravity arm, the one up in a wave before you can blink? The man with the sparkling eyes and sincere smile, who’s ever-ready to burst out in an exuberant laugh? Why, that would be Mike, of course! Mike the mailman, best loved mail carrier this side of, well, anywhere. Ask anybody on his northern Riverwest route. You’ll hear nothing but enthusiastic praise in the kind of voice that’s normally reserved for talking about close friends. Honestly, it’s a happening just to stand on the street talking with Mike. Inside of a few minutes he’ll be interrupted several times by cars beeping, his name being called, or people waving. A big smile, a wave and a hearty, “How’re you doing?” is his standard response. Then, “Have a good day!” I have the great good fortune of having Mike as my mailman and, after a few years of witnessing the unprecedented popularity of this very public figure, asked my editors to allow a non-resident Riverwester to be spotlighted. After all, as Mike puts it, “This is my family, too, now. I’m here more than I’m at home.” He’s been on this route for the last five of his fifteen years with the USPS. In the recent past he’s carried a second route as well. The Postal Service, like so many businesses these days, is pushing their employees harder. But even when he’s overworked Mike keeps his uplifting attitude. “It’s the appreciation I get,” he explains, “when I get that, it’s like I’ve won the lottery. That means a lot.” Mike shares some of the highlights of his job with me. He reveals how he was warned to look out for the elderly lady who was, supposedly, mean. “But the lady told me I’m the best mailman she ever had,” he says, “and she’s ninety! That’s a big compliment.” Then there was the time “the little kids on the next block were crying because I’m not their mailman and I’m their friend’s mailman.” He chuckles and imitates the kids: “Mike always comes over there and he never comes over here!” “I have about 5 or 6 ‘girlfriends’, I call them, widows in their mid to upper 80s,” says Mike. He keeps an eye on them, making sure their mail moves. “But if their mail sits there one day,” he explains, “Then I gotta know what’s happening.” And Clara, another customer, wants him to drink champagne with her on her 100th birthday. “You know, I mean, that’s a lot! This lady’s a century! And she’s respecting me,” he shares with me, awe clear in his voice. Sometimes when people ask Mike why he’s always happy, always smiling, no matter what the weather, he replies, “Man, I’m healthy.” There’s a story behind that response. “I had a terrible automobile accident in July of ‘92, and I asked the Lord, ‘If you let me up off of this stretcher, I promise I’ll never have another bad day,’” he relates. “I’m still here, so I have to do my part.” The recovery from his serious injuries took three months. “I’m just happy. I have no reason to doubt now. But you just gotta have faith. Faith… I never believed it could be what it is, until I tried.” It’s not that he’s p a r t i c u l a r l y religious, as in churchgoing. He’s not opposed to churches, but in his words, “I worship God, not man. I don’t mean to sound rude about these ministers. But if you follow man you might find yourself in trouble sometimes.” He laughs and adds, “Often.” The thirteenth of thirteen children, Mike grew up around 26th and Hope. St. Agnes was his grade school, Whitefish Bay his high school. He joined the Army to see Europe after that, spending two and a half years in Germany. He explored Greece, Spain, France, Denmark and Holland in his free time. Returning stateside he acquired associate degrees in Business Management and Real Estate. For five years he owned a successful landscaping company, which he let go of after his car accident. He started working for the postal service shortly after his recuperation. Mike bought a few houses in the area near his childhood home and lives in one about a mile from his parents. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” he tells us, as he’d prefer a warmer climate. But, for now, he feels very blessed to have both his dad, a welder for 40 years at A.O. Smith who’s had Parkinson’s disease for the last 20 years, and his mom, who’s diabetic and suffered a heart attack, still living. He also has a lovely daughter who recently made him a grandfather to a precious little girl. His family is large and now includes all of his customers. For that matter, my mother is fond of him and she lives in Wautoma. His charisma leaves few untouched. “I just had a lady visiting her son” he shares, “and she said, ‘Young man, can I talk to you for a moment? You just brighten up this area. You are just the nicest mailman. God is sending some messages through you.’ Well, I don’t know what he’s doing. But I do thank him. Sometimes you might see me walking with some tears coming out while I’m talking to him and he’s getting on me ‘cause I’m not always perfect. He’s telling me and I’m listening.” Mike laughs. “But he sends things through me. I can make people happy. I can make people laugh. And that’s a gift, that’s not me, that’s a gift.” That may be true, Mike, but we think you’re the gift. And we are so thankful to be the recipients