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Mikla, Heartland Days grand marshal in spirit

Love at first sight? “Probably.” Mike and Becky Mikla. Submitted photo 1 / 3
Becky Mikla holds a photo of her husband, Mike Mikla. A reminder to all of a determined, not too serious, much loved and well respected grand marshal in spirit. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
99% Dad project. Submitted photo 3 / 3

The title Grand Marshal is thought to have started as a ceremonial title associated with certain religious orders. More generally it has become a ceremonial title bestowed on someone of high character, a leader, someone deserving of a place of honor.

Over the years, if you have followed our newspaper, you will have noticed, particularly during the summer months, we write stories about the grand marshals of many of the parades associated with the various community festivals taking place throughout our readership area.

These grand marshals inevitably share several traits of character which make them not only deserving of the honor but gracious examples of citizens, of human beings we should all respect and emulate. They are humble and frequently uncomfortable in the spotlight. They tend to be quiet, not the loudest voices in the community but always among the most respected. They have served quietly for years often in more than one community organization ranging from the VFW and Kiwanis to the Lions Club and Rotary, American Legion and others. They are volunteers in their churches, fire departments, auxiliaries, schools, and food pantries. They accept this "service" as part and parcel of being decent to other human beings. They understand and actively fulfill these responsibilities as a way of giving living thanks for the freedoms and privileges we all enjoy but so many of us take for granted. They do not expect to be thanked or singled out for sharing of themselves with others in need. They continue to do it whether they are recognized or not because they believe it is the right thing to do. Keep these things in mind the next time your grandmother, grandfather, neighbor, teacher, preacher, mailman, plumber, grocer or barber is honored as grand marshal. Shake their hand and learn all you can.

Michael Mikla passed away Feb. 5, 2016. Posthumously he has been selected as Grand Marshal of this year's Heartland Days Grand Parade, Sunday, Aug. 10, in Hammond. According to Lion's Club Second Vice President Dusty Anderson, Mike's wife Becky and family will represent Mike in the parade.

If all I had to go on was Becky's smile during our interview, I already would have known what kind of man, father and friend Mike was. Humor and grace went hand-in-hand throughout the conversation about Mike.

As far as the actual request of Becky to represent Mike in this year's parade, it went like a lot of these requests, entertainingly awkward.

Becky was a little suspicious from the moment her friend Judy Jones asked if she and her husband Bill (previous Grand Marshals themselves) could stop by with a mystery guest at 8:30 the next morning. The more Becky pondered the request, the more she thought things sounded a little "fishy," why so early and a mystery guest, really?

When Judy and Bill showed up the next morning with Lions Club President Chuck Fedie in tow, Becky had a pretty good idea of where this meeting was going. As all four stood together in the entryway as Chuck awkwardly popped the question to which Becky just stared.

"I didn't know what to say, I was so stunned. I just was quiet for a few minutes," said Becky.

Good strategy, making them sweat.

"You know Mike was a charter member of the Lions Club. He's been on our list," they said.

"Really?" said Becky.

"Yes. But when he died he got bumped lower on the list," they said.

"Mike didn't like parades. He said, 'If you've been to one, you've been to them all,'" said Becky.

"Technically, he's honorary and you'd be representing him," they said.

"Well, okay, but Mike won't be too happy with me. He didn't like the spotlight," recounted Becky with a giggle.

Later Becky learned that the wife of previous Grand Marshal Ron Bounsters required several appeals before relenting. Had she known, Becky said she probably would have held out for a least a week before consenting. Becky said she plans to keep at least one photo from this year's parade so if they come knocking again, she will be able to produce the evidence on the spot to thwart the request. After giving the whole process more thought, she also thinks previous grand marshals and their representatives should automatically have the right to suggest future grand marshal candidates (she has a particular couple in mind already). Although she has never seen it herself, based on a request from one of her grandchildren, she would like the Lions to consider letting the company in the Grand Marshal's vehicle toss candy to the crowd. It is still a week before the parade, there could be more ideas forthcoming.

Mike and Becky had been married for 43 years. They met while they were students at what is now Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. Love at first sight?

"Probably," said Becky.

Mike grew up in Glenwood City and Becky in Amery. Upon finishing his training as a draftsman, Mike enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed at K. I. Air Force Base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the Vietnam War. Following the war, Mike worked for Minnesota Fence and Iron creating drawings for structural steel projects. He and Becky were married March 4, 1972 and eventually moved to Hammond. Mike worked for Derrick Construction for 37 years. He built two homes for his family in Hammond and a lake cabin in Cumberland.

"It was always his dream to have a cabin," said Becky.

Mike and Becky had two children, Wendy (Casey) in New Richmond and Jeff in River Falls. Becky enjoys the company of four grandchildren.

Becky described Mike as a serious sports fan, Packers, Brewers and Bucks. He enjoyed coaching his kids in sports as they grew up. He was a founding member of the Hammond Lions Club, a member of American Legion Post #432 Hammond/Roberts and worked for many years as a volunteer fireman.

Oddly enough, Becky described Mike's grilling skills as mediocre tending more toward the burnt end of done. Apparently his hamburgers could resemble hockey pucks, although his skills appeared to be improving with age.

Of the two, Mike was the funnier, although throughout the interview, Becky was sneaky funny.

"He could be a jokester (laugh). I'm not funny. I'm really pretty quiet most of the time. I'm a good listener. We were a good mix," said Becky.

Who was the sterner parent?

"Just wait until your father gets home! I tried to be stern, but he was the muscle," said Becky.

Mike was more of a meat and potatoes guy, not an adventurous eater, according to Becky.

"He didn't like to go to the Mexican restaurant," said Becky.

Mike did enjoy hunting which ended up leading to a new and longer lasting hobby than he expected.

"They'd go deer hunting up by Spooner. He discovered this old junker on one of their trips. He came home and announced this new father-son project. Of course it became a mostly father project, 99 percent father," said Becky.

Mike had no previous experience restoring cars. The project lead to the addition of another garage to the house and ended up taking 10 years to restore the bright red 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline, which Becky reminded him of periodically. Apparently she reminded him enough that he went out and purchased another Chevy to restore.

That Chevy remains in the garage about 75 percent complete, a reminder to all of a determined, not too serious, much loved and well respected grand marshal in spirit.

Be sure to wave to Becky in the parade, maybe ask for an autograph. She should be preceded by a bright red Chevy Fleetline and riding in a convertible filled with her children and grandchildren ... maybe throwing candy and possibly wearing a hat or visor, with an umbrella, if it is sunny, and dark sunglasses.

The dark sunglasses, that's just Becky being sneaky funny.

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