My Friend, Mike Bartnikowski (Long-time teacher at Ford School)


My visit with Mike in 2011

Today (February 5th) would have been Mike Bartnikowski’s birthday. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to celebrate. 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. You couldn’t miss Mike because of his size. Many of his students would affectionately call him “Big Bart”. I never had Mike as a teacher; so I really didn’t know him or even speak to him.

My opportunity to meet Mike was 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 developed 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. Unfortunately, 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. One of his most favorite games was Diplomacy. He loved the deceit and backstabbing that was part of the game. Because of Mike’s very competitive nature, Saturday morning was the highlight of the week.

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 2011.  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 would not have met my wife, Sharon. I would not have gone to South Africa and Portugal. My two sons would not 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 sure Mike didn’t know until my visit two years ago how important his role was in my life. Yes, Mike is 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:

 If you are interested I have another blog in which I write about about spiritual matters such as “God’s Prescription for Pain” and “Verses for the Valley”. Here is the link:

My Fifth Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School

Midland School, a few years ago.  It is now torn down.

Midland School, a few years ago after being in disuse for many years. It is hard to imagine this school when it was just built for classes in 1961.

Before school began in September, I learned that my fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Newman. This was not good news. My brother had her for his sixth grade teacher three years before. From the discussions that I heard in our house. Mrs. Newman and my brother didn’t have a good relationship. Would I also face problems with Mrs. Newman?

Fifth grade would be my last year at Midland School. This did include some privileges such as becoming an “audiovisual boy.” This meant that at the beginning of school, I would deliver audiovisual equipment to the classrooms. Then at the end of the school day, I would get out of class ten minutes early to pick up the equipment. This equipment today would look like museum pieces. I would deliver filmstrip projectors, 16mm movie projectors, 16 mm movies, filmstrips and on occasion an opaque projector.

This was the "modern" movie projector which threaded when it worked properly.

This was the “modern” movie projector which threaded itself when it worked properly.

As school began, I didn’t find Mrs. Newman as difficult a person as my brother had stated. She didn’t seem to smile a lot, unlike my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jung. She also seemed quite old and ready to retire. However, Mrs. Newman did teach me a lot of things. She helped me a lot with my spelling and math skills. She also had us do some group projects. One project that I did with three other students was on the subject of spices. She would allow us to go out in the hall and talk about our project. This was trust that I hadn’t known before in school. The spice project not only taught me a lot about spices, but also how to work with other students.

The worst part of my fifth grade experience was the SRA reading program. This program was a color coded curriculum that was supposed to help a student in their reading skills. You would read a short story and then answer the questions. I must not have been considered a good reader because Mrs. Newman started me in the color Aqua. This was only one level above Orange which was for the worst readers. Perhaps, the educators thought that by using colors, we wouldn’t discover how slow we were, but everybody knew the significance of each color.

Fifth grade was quite awkward for me because I had developed an overwhelming attachment for comic books. I would go to our corner store every week and buy several comics. After reading them, I would actually rate them from the best to worst. I even had a six-foot tall poster of Spiderman above my bed. He did a great job of protecting me each night!

With my attachment for comics, I would embarrass myself by attending school with a big sweatshirt that showed on the front and the back “The Incredible Hulk”. The front of the shirt had the words: “Here comes the Incredible Hulk”. The back of the shirt had the words: “There goes the Incredible Hulk”. Looking back, I can’t believe that I would wear such a thing.

I can't believe I wore this!

I can’t believe I wore this! This photo is from an Ebay ad.

One great thing about fifth grade was my involvement in the Highland Park Recreation Department baseball program. This is when we played “fast” pitch baseball with the other elementary schools in Highland Park. For some reason, Mr. Monroe, our gym teacher, made me the captain of the Midland One team. We didn’t have adult supervisors; so I had to figure the positions each person played and when they would bat. I was probably a lot like Charlie Brown except I preferred to play first base. This was a great opportunity to learn leadership skills at an early age.

When fifth grade was over, we had no graduation ceremony. The last day of school was simply the last day of school. My five years at Midland school was over. I entered the school not being able to read or do math. I didn’t understand any history when I entered the school and now I had an interest in history.  My writing skills were still far from perfect, but I could write complete sentences. I learned some grammar and phonics in the process as well. I still hadn’t learned to swim. That would happen later!

Those years at Midland School were good years. I am thankful for the teachers that dedicated themselves to teach me the many skills that I have today. I also treasure the friends that I made while there. Most of those friends left Highland Park by the time I would graduate from Highland Park High School in 1973.  Many of my classmates names and faces have been forgotten. My school photos of my friends have also disappeared.  However, many of my good memories of Midland School still remain!

P.S. Please visit my other blog at In this blog I look at various spiritual topics such as: “God’s Seven Medications for Pain”

Olivet College, Here I Come! (Leaving Highland Park)

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Today, I rode my bicycle to Olivet College, my alma mater. As I rode through the small campus, I noticed a great amount activity. The students were returning to school. There were parents leaving their students and helping them get organized. As I was observing all this, the thought popped into my head: “This was what I was doing forty years ago!” Soon, the memories started to flow through my mind as I rode the twelve miles back to Charlotte, Michigan.

During my senior year at Highland Park High School, I was trying to decide where I should go to college. I had taken several courses at Highland Park Community College; so I would begin my college experience as a sophomore. After looking at various schools, I chose Olivet College because I really liked its small campus and small town atmosphere. Also, Olivet College was affiliated with the church that I attended which was the Highland Park Congregational Church.

Leaving home would not be easy. I had only been away from family and home for a few days during eighth grade camp at Camp Rankin. I would miss my Mom’s cooking and all the other things that she did to spoil me, including making my bed, and taking care of all of my clothes. Also, I would be leaving all that I had known for the first eighteen years of my life, including friends, the many bike rides through the Detroit Metro area, playing tennis at Ford Park and many other activities.  My life would be changed forever.

The day finally came when Dad would take me on the two-hour trip to Olivet College. We arrived on campus and soon found our way to the third floor of Blair Hall. As I walked into my room, I was surprised by its smallness and great simplicity. The walls were yellow. There was a single bed, a desk and chair, a dresser and a small closet. The heat would come out of an old radiator by the window. This would be home. I had a single room which was nice, but it also made life a bit lonely.

Dad looked at my room and didn’t say much, but I could tell he wasn’t real pleased.  Dad being in his late sixties was a real trooper in helping me bring up all my belongings to the third floor. After we were almost done, my Dad went to the restroom. Upon his return, he seemed quite upset. He told me in an angry tone: “The stalls don’t have any doors on them!.” This fact caused him to lodge a protest with the dorm supervisor, but nothing ever changed during the time that I was at Olivet.

Blair Hall in 2012

Blair Hall in 2012

When Dad left, I was there alone in my small room. I didn’t know a soul at the school. This would be a challenge for me because I wasn’t the most outgoing person in the world.

The school provided us with orientation activities where we would learn about the school, spend an evening with a community family, and play games to help us to get acquainted with one another. My group leader was “Big John”. He had come to school as a football player, but an injury would sideline him.  I didn’t know then, but “Big John” would have a great influence upon my life, even to the point that the following year, he would take me to the very church of which I am now the pastor.

I would soon face many adjustments. One adjustment would be the food. Breakfast was okay because I was quite happy with breakfast cereal and juice. Lunch and dinner were quite challenging. I had to eat food that my mom would never serve us. The food was so bad that the following year, the college had to hire a new food service.

Another great adjustment was my clothes. I would soon learn how to wash my own clothes. I must have walked around with wrinkled clothes because I don’t remember ever doing any ironing.

Of course, dorm life was quite different.  I soon noticed an unfamiliar smell from a room a couple of doors down. It smelled like burnt rubber. I must have been a bit a slow about this because I had never taken drugs, but I soon came to realize that my neighbors were smoking pot.

Another adjustment would be the noise level. I still remember somebody practicing with his electric guitar on full volume almost every day. The main problem was that he  played the same notes over and over again. I can still remember the notes that he played each day. There were stereos blasting away into the night. Sleep sometimes was difficult to find.

When the school year finally started, I soon made some friends. I also became involved with a group called Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. We would meet every Tuesday night. We would sing, share and hear a Bible message. Everything was vague to me. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Christian at the time; however, it was a great place to meet other students.

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

As I started my classes, I found myself in a class called Intellectual Traditions. This class was a six-hour class that would cover four semesters. The goal of this class was to study the “Great Books of the Western World”.  My teacher for this class was William Buchanan. He looked the part of a teacher for this class. His longish beard and thick glasses hid the quick mind that he possessed. Mr. Buchanan would guide us in discussions of the “Great Books of the Western World.” The reading for the course was immense. One Christmas break, he made us read War and Peace. Mr. Buchanan had a great knack of helping his students to think deeply about what they were reading. His questions for our class discussions were sometimes vague, but they were always challenging. He would have some classes at his house and he even invited us to his cottage on Lake Michigan for a weekend. Mr. Buchanan would help me to learn to think for myself though I am sure there were times he disagreed with me.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

When my Dad left me that day forty years ago, I realized that my growing up days in Highland Park were nearly finished.  Yes, I would return home for a couple of summers, but life would never be the same. Highland Park was now in my past. My future was ahead of me. My two years at Olivet College would be life-changing in many ways.

P.S. Please visit my other blog:  This is where I share my views about spiritual matters and contemporary issues from a spiritual perspective.

Remembering Graduation from Highland Park High School-June 14,1973

Saying goodbye to Highland Park High School on June 14, 1973

Saying goodbye to Highland Park High School on June 14, 1973

One by one the graduates passed by before me to receive their diplomas. I was sitting near the front of the Wharton Center auditorium as I watched the graduation ceremony of the Charlotte High School class of 2013.

As I watched the graduates joyfully receive their diplomas, my mind went back to June 14, 1973.  I was wearing a dark blue gown with my cap. The 1973 graduating class of Highland Park High School was sitting in the front of Ford Auditorium in Detroit. Proud family, and friends packed the auditorium as we walked across the stage and received our diplomas. With the receiving of our diplomas a chapter of our lives was over, and we would be starting a new chapter in our lives. Like my classmates, I didn’t know what the future would hold, but I was excited to have this one chapter of my life finished.


My Mom kept a record of the events of graduation week. I imagine she did this; so I wouldn’t forget what was happening throughout the week. The week would be filled with memories, as well as excitement as I looked forward to my future. There would be goodbyes said, and many a person would drift away from my life, never to be seen again.

Mom's list of events for graduation week

Mom’s list of events for graduation week

One of my special memories of graduation week was the Honor Society dinner. This dinner was held the evening before our graduation. Mr. Spencer was our sponsor, and he arranged for us to have our final goodbyes at Sinbad’s, which was a nice restaurant off of the Detroit River. I didn’t know it, but it would be the last time I would ever see Mr. Spencer. He would leave for South Korea for the new school year. He planned to teach there, but he died of cancer at a very young age.  I never thanked him for all that he did for me as my counselor, as well as our Honor Society sponsor. His advice influenced my life even unto this day. Recently, I wrote a tribute to him (

Mr. Franklin Spencer III

Mr. Franklin Spencer III

The day of graduation was filled with preparation as my family made sure that they would have photos of me. I was glad that my only living grandparent from Pennsylvania could be with us. Grandma Solomon would die in three years; so I treasured the time with her.

Dad and Mom with me before graduation.

Dad and Mom with me before graduation.

Our graduation ceremony was not memorable. The speeches have been forgotten, but I do remember the noise and shouting that resounded in the auditorium for some of us who received our diplomas. When they called my name, I heard a faint clapping and cheer from my family. The ceremony seemed lengthy, but when it ended, I knew that my life would never be the same.

The program for our graduation.

The program for our graduation.

I had invested thirteen years of my life in my schooling and now, it was all over. I would never see any of my classmates again. My teachers would become a distant memory. I would never step foot again in the halls of Highland Park High School.

Highland Park High School closed in 1977.  The halls now remain silent.

Highland Park High School closed in 1977. The halls now remain silent.

When I look back upon my high school years, I do have some regrets. I did keep pretty much to myself. I was quite defensive, and I had a certain lack of contentment. I had a spiritual void during those years as well, but I didn’t know where to find the answer. In the next chapter of my life, I would find the answer to this spiritual void in the person of Jesus Christ.

However, there were many positives of my high school years. I did enjoy the friendships that I made in the Honor Society, as well as the tennis team. Being President of the Honor Society gave me some very important lessons in leadership which have helped me even today. I also learned that the most effective leaders were those who go beyond what is expected of them. The night after graduation, Mrs. Banton, my Latin teacher, invited a few of us to her house for dinner. She prepared a delicious meal for us. Talk about going the extra mile. I still need to take her example to heart even today.

Forty years ago, I finished the Highland Park High School chapter of my life, but the effect of my high school years are still real in my life today. When I left Ford Auditorium that night, the adventure of my life was only beginning. When I read “Cry, the Beloved Country” in tenth grade English, I never would have thought that I would live eight years in South Africa.  I never would have imagined that I would live four years in the land of the great Portuguese explorers that we studied in history class.

When I look back upon my years at Highland Park High School, there were difficult times and good times. However, I realize that God had a great purpose for my life in having me attend HPHS.  My life today still is a product of those years in high school. I thank God for each teacher that I had in school, as well as for every friend that I had during those formative years in my life.

P.S. Here is a link to an article written about Mrs. Banton.  This is by another one of her students.

Thoughts about My Highland Park Teachers (Teacher Appreciation Week)

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.  I don’t know if we ever had a Teacher Appreciation Week when I went to school, but I do know that I never showed any real appreciation to my teachers. Why wasn’t I appreciative of the efforts of my many teachers?

Growing up and going to school, I basically lived in my own little world.  My focus was upon myself, sometimes family and a few friends. I never thought about the lives of the teachers that I had throughout my days in school. Teachers were like the furniture in the school. They were a necessary fixture. Yes, many were nice and a few not so nice.  However, I never really thought about them as people. I never thought about the fact that they had personal lives with heartaches, problems, sicknesses, and needs. I don’t think I ever said “thank you” or an encouraging word to any of my teachers.

Today I am typing this post because I had teachers that taught me how to read, and write.  Several teachers poured themselves into teaching me grammar and spelling. I had an eighth grade teacher that taught me how to type. My tenth grade speech teacher gave me my first lessons in public speaking.  Now, as a pastor, I preach the Word of God three times a week. There are many other things that I learned in school, that I use today. Yet, I rarely think about the teacher that taught me the very things that I know today.

 I am sure that I am not alone in taking teachers for granted. Teachers are a group of people who are always giving out, but they don’t get much in return from those to whom they give so much. As a parent or a student, it would be great to give a word of encouragement to a teacher. You can be the source of refreshment to a teacher who may truly be thirsting for someone to care about them.

 P.S. I originally wrote parts of this post after hearing that one of my teachers had committed suicide several years ago.  It woke me up to the fact that my teachers had real needs, but I was too self-centered to think about them as people.

Playing Tennis in Highland Park

The 1972 Highland Park High School Tennis Team

The 1972 Highland Park High School Tennis Team

Our trip to Epps Sporting Goods would affect my life even today. Dad took me to buy my first tennis racket.  I was about twelve years old and I had decided to learn to play tennis because my older brother played tennis and I wanted to be like him.

Dad checked out the cheap tennis rackets and found one that would fit into his budget.  He didn’t want to buy an expensive racket because he didn’t know if my desire to play tennis was just a passing fancy.  When we arrived home, Dad gave me my first and only tennis lesson.  He took me out in the backyard.  Then, he handed me a tennis ball and told me to keep hitting the tennis ball up in the air. This would get me use to hitting the ball as well as keeping my eye on the ball.  I continued to do this every day.  I began to imagine myself becoming the next Rod Laver.

By the time, I was in eighth grade, I would take my tennis racket to Ford Park and hit the tennis ball off the tennis court wall. The problem was that I would often hit the ball over the wall, which meant I spent more time retrieving my ball than hitting it.  Eventually, I could hit the ball with some regularity. Now I was ready to hit with anybody who was willing to hit with a young person who had a great desire to play tennis, but not much ability.

One man, who took a special interest in me was Ed.  He was a man in his late fifties or early sixties.  I was always excited to see his large white Chrysler park in the alley behind the tennis courts.  Ed patiently would hit with me, which soon gave me some confidence in playing tennis. There were others who hit with me because I was never shy to ask anybody who didn’t have a tennis partner to hit with me.

My getting ready to go play tennis at Ford in 1969.  Notice the Highland Park Recreation Baseball T-shirt.  I played in Class F for the Royals.

Getting ready to go play tennis at Ford in 1969. Notice the Highland Park Recreation Baseball T-shirt. I played in Class F for the Royals.

My first experience of playing organized tennis was in ninth grade when I played on the
U of D High School tennis team.  I definitely was the low man on the totem pole, but going to the practices and hitting with others helped my game. My coach once encouraged me by saying the my serve was so slow that he could catch it with his bare hand. However, I wasn’t going to quit. I was determined to succeed in tennis.

In tenth grade, I was back at Highland Park High School, and I joined the tennis team.  Tennis was not an important sport at the school; so I became the number one singles player in my junior and senior year.  This may sound impressive, but when we played schools like Grosse Pointe South, it meant that if I won a game or two, I was doing well.

There were perks to playing on the tennis team.  At the beginning of the season, we received three or four pair of tennis socks, four cans of tennis balls and the best of all, a brand new pair of Jack Purcells tennis shoes. These shoes were the top of the line.  By this time also, I had graduated to a Jack Kramer Autograph racket.  This was the top of line in rackets.

A Jack Kramer Autograph Tennis Racket with a bracket to keep the racket from warping.

A Jack Kramer Autograph Tennis Racket with a bracket to keep the racket from warping.

Another perk was that I received physical education credit for playing tennis. This was a big perk because it meant I didn’t have to take swimming class or gym class during my time at Highland Park High School.

Practicing at the Ford Park tennis courts.

Practicing at the Ford Park tennis courts.

One problem about being on the tennis team was that our coach never played tennis.  We never did any drills. We never received any instructions on how to serve. He basically would go with us to matches and tell us to try harder.  When we played schools like Ecorse, River Rouge or Ferndale, our lack of ability didn’t show; however when we played Grosse Pointe South, Monroe or Dondero, it was embarrassing.

Speaking of Monroe, this was our favorite place to play. After getting beaten by Monroe, the coach would take us all to a restaurant and we could eat all the chicken we desired.  It definitely made the thrashing that we had received go down better.

In my senior year, Highland Park was no longer in the Border Cites League. This meant that our competition was more on our level.  We actually won a few matches during the season. At the end of the year, the Detroit News selected me to be on the All-Detroit tennis team. My photo was in the Detroit News with the other players who had been named for this honor. Before I could get too proud, somebody in the school told me that the Detroit News writer who selected the All-Detroit team was a graduate of Highland Park High School. This took the wind out of my sails.

After I graduated from Highland Park, I would continue to play tennis.  I played on the Olivet College team as a freshman; however, I soon played less and less tennis.  It has only been in recent years that I have taken up tennis again. Playing tennis again brings back memories of those great days of playing tennis at Ford Park in the early Seventies.

My Fourth Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School

Midland School, a few years ago.  It is now torn down.

Midland School, a few years ago. It is now torn down.

How did I lose a whole year of my school life?  Out of all my years of schooling, my fourth grade experience is probably the one with the least memories. Perhaps, my fourth grade memories were erased by my first year of swim class (See my post: Facing My Greatest Fear: Swim Class). I would go to school every Tuesday with a great dread of the afternoon trip to the Liberty School swimming pool. Such a bad memory probably clouded many of the good experiences in fourth grade.

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Jung. I don’t remember a lot about Mrs. Jung except that she was middle-aged, and she wore glasses.  I also remember that Mrs. Jung was the most lenient teacher I had at Midland Elementary School. She allowed the class to have an abnormal amount of freedom. An example of this freedom was that she allowed us to place our desks in groups of four. Two desks would face two other desks. I don’t remember the point of this exercise, but looking back I could see that it was problematic.  Can you imagine the mischief we were able to do in such a setting? I don’t remember if this was a typical situation or a temporary experiment.

Speaking of desks, I had a full desk which had a top that lifted up. Inside the desk was where we were to place our books, folders and other essential educational materials. I often had a problem with my desk.  My top wouldn’t close!  This wasn’t because of a defect in my desk, but a big defect in my neatness.  I think I had the second messiest desk in the class. The person with the messiest desk will remain unnamed.

One of the highlights of fourth grade wasn’t in the school, but after school.  Fourth grade would be the first year that I participated in Highland Park Little League football.  I was on the Freshmen team. The practices were at 4:30 P.M. each night at Ford Field. This was great for me because I could walk to practice from my house on Candler Ave. Yes, I would have to cut through two yards to get there, but this was never problem in our neighborhood.

Being part of Little League football was my first experience in organized athletics.  Our coach was the Mayor’s son, Mark Storen Jr.  I guess I didn’t become a star because I was on the blue team, which was a nice way of saying the second string team. We played one set of downs each half and I played offensive guard.

One other memory that still sticks in my mind was the Christmas gift exchange for our class. I had bought a rather expensive gift to exchange. It was a plastic bowling set that cost almost two dollars. I was excited when I received my gift in a large Hudson’s box.  What could be in such a large box?  I opened the box and found a twenty-five cent rubber baseball. I felt quite disappointed. This showed that I had a long way to go in learning the joy of giving.

The rest of my fourth grade experience is quite a blur.  Yes, we had the usual recess.  The visits to the library. The same lunch that I always brought to school. The same walk home from school going through the dreaded Second Avenue tunnel.

I am sure that Mrs. Jung was a fine teacher and she taught me many important things, however, I don’t remember anything in particular that I learned in class.  I  am thankful that she did care for her students.  I am also thankful that I survived swim class!