Today, I received sad news. I learned that Mike Bartnikowski had passed away on Thursday. He will be greatly missed. While I was living in Highland Park, Mike was a great influence in my life during my teenage years.
The first time, I ever saw Mike was while I was a student at Ford Middle School from 1966-69. Mike was a seventh grade teacher, and I would see him walking down the halls with his class. I never had Mike as a teacher; so I really didn’t know him or even speak to him. He did appear to enjoy teaching and seemed to have had a cheerful disposition.
I met Mike when he started to work at Ford Park in the summers. I spent a lot of time at Ford Park even as a young teen because there wasn’t much else to do. I would play shuffleboard with the old men, play some table games, and play a lot of tennis. It was during these summers that I was able to develop a friendship with Mike.
Mike treated me as an adult though I was only a young teen. He would listen to what was going on in my life and he would share things that were happening in his life. I remember that he was quite excited when his daughter, Barb, was born. I didn’t really appreciate Mike’s friendship and kindness until later in my life.
One of the things that Mike greatly enjoyed was playing war games (mostly board games). Mike and I would spend time each summer playing some of these war games at the park. Eventually Mike started a war gamers club that met at Hackett Field House every Saturday morning. He loved the competition. It was a great way for several of us to pass the time on a Saturday morning.
Mike also enjoyed playing practical jokes. One evening at Ford Park, I was playing tennis when I heard this voice over the loudspeaker say: “Mark Booth, your mother is calling you!” Many of those playing were laughing as I ran off the courts to see what was up. Mike then comes up to me laughing because he had pulled off a brilliant prank.
After I graduated from Highland Park High School in 1973, I never did see Mike again until last year. Like many people, we were able to get reconnected through Facebook. I enjoyed spending a couple of hours with Mike and his wife, Barb. He talked about Ford School, the teachers in the school, some of his students, and he also wanted to relive his prank that he played upon me forty years before. I am glad that we had that chance to get acquainted again.
During my last visit, Mike was surprised that I was a pastor of a Baptist Church. I shared how God had used him to greatly influence my life. I reminded him how through his advice, I was able to convince my parents to transfer me back to Highland Park High School after a very miserable ninth grade at U of D High School. This decision enabled me to eventually finish college early. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met my wife, Sharon. I wouldn’t have gone to South Africa and Portugal. My two sons wouldn’t be in Portugal now. I could just go on and on.
During my high school years I didn’t know how God was working in my life. I thank God for having an adult friend like Mike with whom I could talk. I am thankful that God used Mike to change the direction of my life even when I wasn’t even a believer in Jesus Christ. I am sure Mike didn’t know until my visit last year how important his role was in my life. Yes, Mike will be missed by many, but I will not forget Him. God is still blessing me by having placed Mike in my life.
P.S. Here is an article about the Wargamers Club that Mike started: