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

Aside

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: http://www.markjemilbooth.com
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Ford Park-My Summer Hangout

From my elementary school years through high school, there was one constant in my life. I spent a big part of my summer at Ford Park. This park provided hours of fun, as well as the opportunity to learn how to play tennis, and shuffleboard. Ford Park was also a great place to meet people and develop friendships.

Ford Park had a lot of amenities that larger parks didn’t have. Coming from the Woodward Avenue entrance to the park, large trees greeted each visitor. There were picnic tables and grills placed in strategic locations. On the south side was the maintenance building which was the central location for the maintenance equipment for all the parks in Highland Park.

After the picnic tables and grills, came the playground area of the park. There was the typical playground equipment. I always enjoyed playing on the rocket. Within the playground section, there was also a cement area where there were sprinklers which were turned on during the summer for the children to play and to cool off. I was never much for water, so I never spent any time there.

To south of the playground was an open field of grass which was used to play field hockey each evening.  We used plastic sticks and a plastic ball. Every night, this would be a big treat to play. Beyond the open field were five shuffleboard courts. As I became older, I enjoyed playing with the “old men” who came each day to compete.

Going further east in the park, there was the pavilion, which was a shelter for ice skaters in the winter. In the summer it became a refreshment stand that sold pop, candy and popsicles. Within this building, there were table games that would be given out, as well as the shuffleboard equipment.

To the north of the playground were ten tennis courts. These courts had lights and were well maintained. When I turned thirteen, I started to have a keen interest in tennis. These tennis courts would be my home away from home for several summers. I met some great people on the tennis courts. To this day, I still enjoy playing tennis.

Ford Park was more than the equipment, the tennis courts, and the large trees in the front of the park. It was a place where dedicated adults brought fun, happiness, and skills into the lives of the children who came each day. The Highland Park Recreation Department hired these adults to work throughout the summer at Ford Park.

The first recreation director I remember at Ford Park was Stanley Zubel. Mr. Zubel worked in the Highland Park school system during the school year and then at Ford Park in the summer. He kept the park moving with activities. I still remember painting the molds of various things such as an Indian chief and a dog. I also made some pot holders using a loom. Table games were great fun as well.

A potholder loom like we used at Ford Park.

A potholder loom like we used at Ford Park.

In the evening, Mr. Zubel had two very special activities. The first was Tiny Tot softball.  This was for children ten years old and under. If you were older, Mr. Zubel would let you play, but you had to bat with the opposite hand. After Tiny Tot softball, we played field hockey. This was always competitive. Sometimes, Mr. Zubel would penalize us for various infractions of the rules. This meant that we couldn’t play for a certain amount of time. Even as a ten-year old, I could tell that Mr. Zubel had his heart in what he was doing. Two years ago, Mr. Zubel died. I wished I could have thanked him for all of his good work. Here is a link to Mr. Zubel’s obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theoaklandpress/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=150279186#fbLoggedOut

Mr. Zubel would leave when I was about eleven years old, but there were other directors who did a great job. There was Mrs. Lang, and Katie Street, who taught art at Ford Middle School. Another director whose name escapes me would come to work in a Plymouth Road Runner with a spoiler bar. I was quite impressed with his car.

The director that I had as a great friend during my teenage years was Mike Bartnikowski. Mike taught at Ford Middle School, but spent his summers as the director at Ford Park.  Mike was great fun because he had a great sense of humor and was addicted to war games. Every afternoon, some of us would gather together at the park with Mike and fight famous battles such as Waterloo, D-Day, and Midway. Another favorite was a game called Diplomacy.

One evening, Mike played a prank on me that I have never forgotten. While I was playing tennis (I was probably sixteen.), Mike got on the PA system and announced that there was an important message for Mark Booth. Then he announced your mother is calling you. The people on the tennis courts had a great laugh as I ran off the courts, only to find a laughing Mike Bartnikowski at the pavilion. There was no call from my Mom.

As a teen, I always found that Mike would listen to me and some of my concerns. He was more than a director, but a dear friend.

Photo taken in 2011. Mike passed away last year.  Here is a link to my article on Mike Bartnikowski. http://markjemilbooth.com/2012/10/20/goodbye-mike-bartnikowski-thank-you-for-everything/

Photo taken in 2011. Mike passed away last year. Here is a link to my article on Mike Bartnikowski. http://markjemilbooth.com/2012/10/20/goodbye-mike-bartnikowski-thank-you-for-everything/

Another embarrassing memory at the park involved my bicycle. I had inherited my brother’s two-speed Schwinn bike. I rode this bike all over the Detroit area. I would always ride my bike to Ford Park. There was a boy who came to the park who asked to ride my bike. I consented and he would always return it. One day, he took off on my bike. As time went by, I sat on a picnic table waiting and waiting for my bike to return. It never did.

My stolen bike looked a lot like this.

My stolen bike looked a lot like this.

Those years at Ford Park were wonderful. Today, children in my community don’t have a place like Ford Park with activities and great adult supervision. I was very privileged to live in Highland Park during the years when there were funds to offer so many opportunities to have fun and a safe place to play.

P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I write about spiritual subjects such as: “Do I Have Spiritual Amnesia” and “God’s Waiting Room”.