Editor's Note: Two years ago, Hinsdale Central senior Michael Mayer had to write a human-interest story as part of his application to join the Hinsdale Central Advocate newspaper. He chose Mike Smith as his subject. Smith, known as "Mr. Mike" to the students at Elm School, has since been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. The following essay is being reprinted in its entirety.
At the crack of dawn, Mike Smith knows it is time to get up and go. The day has begun, and he doesn’t plan on wasting a single second. As the sun begins its long journey into the sky, Mike laces up his shoes, pulls on his “#1 Crossing Guard” baseball cap, and takes his white, furry dog Jack for a leisurely walk.
At age 77, Mike looks forward to each day with a smile that is instantly recognizable. Mike is more than a kind man who walks his dog; he is a role model, a man who is making a difference in the community.
Mike Smith has been an avid helper in the community ever since he moved to Hinsdale from the south side of Chicago in 1987. He is the crossing guard at Elm Elementary School, checks the locks on all the doors and windows each night, and is a passionate fan who attends elementary, middle, and high school sports and activities.
In his free time, he watches over neighbors’ homes while they are away. Mike is a positive role model to everyone he encounters.
Despite his age, Mike is remarkably active and plans to stay that way. Mike believes that age doesn’t matter. A normal day begins with walking Jack, his Tibetan Terrier. He loves his dog, and walks him several times a day.
“I’ve got arthritis in both of my legs, the doctor says, but that doesn’t stop me from waking up at five every morning to walk Jack,” said Mike.
During school hours, he works three crossing guard shifts.
“The [school secretary] asked if I could fill in for the day because the girl wasn’t here. I said I’d be the crossing guard as long as they didn’t have a replacement. I’ve been the crossing guard for four years now!” said Mike.
However, Mike doesn’t do all he does, because he has to do. Mike boldly said, “I like being active. If you stop being active at my age, you lose it.” And when Mike offers to do something, he’ll do it no matter what. Often in the winter, you’ll see Mike fulfilling his crossing guard duties in harsh, blustery weather. “The kids and the moms ask me why I am working in the negative ten degree weather and rain. I say because it’s my job, and I enjoy it.”
But Mike’s day does not end when he’s finished his crossing guard duties. He offers to watch over peoples’ houses and collect their mail while they are out of town. He may even walk around their houses to make sure nothing seems suspicious.
A true sports enthusiast, Mike loves going to the high school football and basketball games or running over to Hinsdale Middle School to see what’s going on. “I love sports,” Mike said.
Come Christmas or Halloween, kids may be lucky enough to be given a dollar coin from Mike, a present children love. With a slight chuckle, Mike said, “I gave a little girl a dollar coin, and she wrote back saying thanks for the coin Mr. Mike. It was the best gift ever!”
According to Elm School Principal Jeanne Considine, life for the Elm School community wouldn’t be the same without Mike. Considine described Mike as one of the most genuine and caring men she’s ever met, a man as much a part of the community as the students themselves.
“The kids know Mr. Mike is watching over the school, and they wave at him… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a day where I haven’t seen him smiling,” said Considine.
She said Mike not only locks all the doors at night, but he checks the school for graffiti and helps out wherever he can. An interesting question to consider is how different the community would be without Mike.
Considine said, “I think it would just be a bit lonelier not seeing that smile on his face.”
Mike has built up an almost prodigious reputation for himself in the Elm School community and plans on keeping up his work for as long as possible. He loves knowing what’s going on, remembering faces, and engaging people in lively conversations.
As the sun sets and Mike walks Jack one last time, he stops and turns around to look. He sees the school and homes he has watched over for so many years and smiles. He knows he has made a difference and cannot wait to do it again tomorrow.