Mike S. is an affable gentleman in his seventies with a warm, ready smile and obvious sense of humor whose eyes light up behind his brown-rimmed glasses. His sister Karen remembers that he was a very happy baby and little boy. She says even back then everyone noticed his big smile.
Mike grew up in the Pierre area in the 1950s, first on a farm where he was his big sister’s sidekick, and then in town. He didn’t talk much, but he loved playing with other kids and riding his bike. In old black and white photos, he and his sister ride on their tricycles, play with their toy wagon, and visit the farm animals. Mike’s early experiences outside of family life were difficult, though. His first teacher in a one-room schoolhouse spanked and humiliated him in class when he couldn’t complete his lessons. Even some of his own relatives were unkind toward Mike because of his learning differences.
Fortunately, Mike’s parents were very strong advocates for him and knew he, and those like him, deserved respect and opportunities just like anyone else. His father withdrew him from that school and was instrumental in ensuring special education classes were then offered for Mike and other children in the Pierre area. His dad also worked with the governor to create the first charter in South Dakota for The ARC, a national organization that advocates for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In 1968, when Mike turned 19, he joined Black Hills Works, still a young organization at that time, leaving home to move to Rapid City. In his 54 years at BHW, he has learned many skills and lived independently in several different apartment complexes in town. Staff say Mike is “hard working, loyal, and ambitious.” Mike worked in custodial services at the Federal Building and Ellsworth AFB for several decades, where the high quality of his work led to special projects.
Mike has always been a big football and baseball fan, especially of the Steelers. He watches games frequently and follows the team stats in the newspaper. Mike also loves to bowl and was very active in Special Olympics until recently. Now that he’s older, he prefers to play bowling videogames on his iPad. He also loves to fish. Among Mike’s many travels around the United States, both with his family, with tour groups, and with Black Hills Works, he has gone deep sea fishing in Florida, visited Hawaii and Alaska, gone to NFL games (including a Super Bowl), and more.
Mike’s family ties remain strong. He often visited his parents in Pierre by bus and traveled with them to see other relatives. Although his parents have passed away, Mike keeps in close touch with his sister Karen, who lives in Pittsburgh, and his niece. He enjoys their frequent videochats and annual visits.
Today, Mike is retired and lives in a sunny, open apartment in west Rapid. He likes the convenient location because he can walk to restaurants or the gas station for treats and even to the hair salon when he needs a trim. He loves grilling steak on the shared apartment patio with his fellow apartment mates.
Karen, Mike’s sister, says, “I have so much respect for Mike and his accomplishments and am so proud of the way he overcame so much adversity over the years to make a good life for himself. I often wonder what would have become of him if our dad hadn’t had the persistence to assure that Mike would be given the opportunity to live a normal, productive life.”
We at Black Hills Works are also proud of Mike and thankful for his parents’ pioneering advocacy in the 1950s and 1960s. We are honored to play a role in Mike’s ongoing journey!