Please remember in your prayers Mike Elwell, who died Thursday, Sept. 12. He was a building service worker in Schulze Hall on the Minneapolis campus and had been undergoing treatment for cancer.
According to Lisa Guyott, marketing communications director at the Opus College of Business, "The University of St. Thomas lost one of its most valuable employees." She writes the following tribute:
A man known alternately as Big Mike, Santa or just Mike, he was a longtime member of the maintenance crew on the Minneapolis campus. He was one of those people who so many ignore – the man pushing the cleaning cart through the hallways, emptying trash bins, or cleaning the carpets in the buildings and skyways.
Yet Mike Elwell’s role in our community was as big as his laugh and more important than his skill in removing spots. He took time to know each person in the Opus College of Business personally, from students to faculty to staff. He remembered our children’s names and even our work schedules so, when he met us in the hallways, he would ask about their first day of school or wonder if our absences had been due to a vacation or illness.
Beyond his work at the university, Mike spent 40 years as a professional Santa. As a card-carrying member of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, he spread his joy and passion for living to children around the state. In 2010, Mike was given the Distinguished Citizen Award by the university in recognition of his service to others and advancing the common good for the campus and broader communities. Annually, he was featured on the news for his service to hospitalized children.
While Mike’s approach to life can certainly teach us about kindness and compassion, for those of us involved in learning or teaching business skills, he demonstrates how important it is to look beyond the surface, to dig deeply into what and who we think we know, and to seek out connections with each person we encounter lest we miss the opportunity to find the truly remarkable.
Last summer my young son commuted to work with me for several mornings. And each morning, we would run into Big Mike, first by chance, but as the days progressed, by intention. Mike went out of his way to ensure he was near my office when we arrived, or my son would insist we look for him before we went on our way. In just a few moments over a few days, Mike left a lasting impression on my son, an impression that led the young boy to wonder aloud not too long ago: “Is everyone you work with as smart as Mike?” It’s something for us to aspire to.
An obituary is available from Kok Funeral Home. Funeral services began at noon Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Newport United Methodist Church, 1596 11th Avenue, Newport, Minn. Visitation took place from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, at KOK Funeral Home, 1201 Portland Ave., St. Paul Park, Minn., as well as 11 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Sept. 18, at the church.
Staff members from the Physical Plant, along with Campus Ministry and Personal Counseling, held a prayer service at 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, in the Chapel of St. Thomas More in the School of Law building on the Minneapolis campus.
Members of the St. Thomas community who would like support or assistance in dealing with Mike's death are welcome to contact Campus Ministry, (651) 962-6560, or Counseling and Psychological Services, (651) 962-6780.