That continued for more than a decade before his health finally forced him into retirement in late 1997. However, that twist in life allowed The Skull to return home to his roots.
When it was learned cancer came calling not long after he went home, Mike never flinched, using his heart of a champion to not only fight with all the might he could muster, but to keep writing — which he did for me here at the Star Beacon until the time of his death — and to laugh... at himself.
When the awful chemotherapy treatments took all of his hair, Mike — who like most of us ink-stained wretches, wasn’t exactly a rose — to quip to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever resembled Mr. Clean!”
Mike’s dear friend, Bryant Heisinger, said The Skull was laughing and joking the last time the old pals saw each other, even with Mike stuck in a hospital bed. The fact Mike was laughing at himself to the very end came as no surprise to those of us who knew and, yes, loved, the guy.
With his eye issues not allowing him to drive a car, Mike still found a way to get behind a wheel, though it was on a golf cart. While he couldn’t see well enough to play, he like to hit the links with us just... well, just because. One time at Geneva-on-the-Lake, I was riding with him and the tee box was elevated a couple hundred feet above the green on a short par-3. After mangling my tee shot, I hopped in the passenger seat and Mike hit the gas.
It took only a few seconds before I realized I was in for the ride of my life, which I saw flash in front of me as it hit me that Mike didn’t see that the cart path went left of the tee box and down a path.
Instead, Mike drove us straight... over the cliff.
While my Irish half came blurting out — as in, “OH, (CRAPPPPPPPP)!” — Mike knew something was wrong, though he couldn’t see, and while keeping one giant paw on the wheel, he grabbed what seemed like my entire shirt and bellowed, “Hold on, Don!”
When our joyride came to an end at the bottom of the cliff, and after checking to make sure we, and our chariot, were still in one piece, we looked at each other and burst into laughter.
“If we were cats, we’d have no (flippin’) lives left, Don!” he said through a cat-that-swallowed-the-canary smile.
That’s one of probably a thousand stories about the decade-plus I spent with Mike here at the Star Beacon.