Classic Kowall: For the love of family, cars and hockey

 

In this series of one-of-a-kind interviews, the Michigan Republican Senate Blog will be taking a nonpolitical glimpse into the lives of our members — outside of public office.

On a cold Detroit winter day in 1962, a young Mike Kowall entered the ice arena for hockey practice. After catching up to one of his teammates walking with his dad, he said, “Hello, Mr. Howe. Good luck with Toronto tonight.” The man we know today as “Mr. Hockey” gave him a rare smile.

“Gordie was an intimidating guy,” recalled Kowall. “The guy was big and imposing and had hands the size of hams. When he gave you that patented ‘Howe glare’ your blood ran a little bit colder. Funny thing was he was a sweet guy off the ice and really funny. I played peewee hockey with his son Mark who was a couple of years younger than me, and man that kid could play. I don’t think he ever missed an opportunity to turn me inside out on the ice, but that was hockey.

“My dad was Canadian and hockey ran in our blood. He had a choice between playing professional hockey and paying his bills. He was both stubborn and practical, so work won out. But it was cool growing up around hockey in Detroit in the late 50s and early 60s.”

Serving his second term, Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, was elected to the Michigan Senate in November 2010. He previously served as White Lake Township supervisor and state representative.

Mike was the oldest of Richard and Doris Kowall’s four children and grew up in Detroit after the family moved from a farm in Manitoba, Canada. His father landed a job with Dodge Truck on the assembly line and moved into skilled trades, where he apprenticed and became a carpenter. He eventually made the decision to start his own carpentry/woodworking business due to the demand for his services. Kowall recalls there was no shortage of fellow Polish families in the area in need of home repairs.

“Dad was fluent in five different languages and with Detroit being such a melting pot in the 1950s, there were so many different and diverse communities he could work in,” said Kowall. “He was never shy about taking us along to help, but more importantly, learn about the business, the art of the deal and following through on your word. He stressed honesty to us kids and to this day people remember him that way.”

Mike attended Henry Ford High School in Detroit and was active in sports. “I grew up like any kid playing baseball and swimming, but my first love was always hockey. My mom thought football was too rough, but hockey was okay!” Kowall laughed. “I played hockey whenever I could, but I wasn’t good enough to go pro. I figured I better hit the books and learn a trade.”

In the summer Mike headed north by train to his grandfather’s farm in Manitoba. It was a memorable time and one that allowed him to get to know his heritage.

“Can you imagine putting your 10-year-old on a train all by themselves bound for Manitoba today? You’d probably get arrested,” Kowall said. “Times were different back then, and we got to learn responsibility and how to keep our wits about us earlier then kids do today. Spending those summers with my Polish grandparents taught me a lot about who my dad was and why we had such strong values. I got to know my grandparents and how to run a business and balance the books – skills that I use to this day. I worked hard, but had a lot of freedom to experience things on the farm that many of my friends back home couldn’t imagine.”

After graduating in 1970, Kowall went to Oakland University and decided to go into an apprenticeship program to become a cabinet maker and work in his family’s business. Mike now lives in White Lake with his wife Eileen, who currently serves as an Oakland County commissioner and was a former state representative. The couple has two daughters, Marissa and Stephanie, and two grandchildren.

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but Eileen and I have known each other since second grade,” Kowall admitted. “We both attended the same Catholic grade school when we were growing up but didn’t really hang out. We dated my last year of high school and ended up getting married a few years later. During the past 36 years we have always been a team and couldn’t imagine going through life with anyone else.”

The second love of Mike’s life – although Eileen will argue that rank – is his classic car collection. If he is ever missing for an extended period of time, she knows right where she can find him. A pole barn on his property houses his beloved 1927 Model T, a 1928 Essex, a 1936 Plymouth, 1985 BMW convertible, his original 1967 Triumph motorcycle and a 1950 Studebaker. He also has the original John Deere tractor his grandfather used on his farm in Manitoba.

“I love to drive my 50 Studebaker down the street and watch heads turn,” said Kowall. “I don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to restoring them, but this is where you will find me when I have an afternoon or evening free.”

Getting to Know… Sen. Peter MacGregor

50?!? Yes, Sen. Peter MacGregor is celebrating his 50th birthday today.

He recently sat down for a light-hearted interview in the latest installment of the Michigan Senate Republican Blog’s “Getting to Know You” series.

What would his boys say is his favorite movie? What life lesson did he learn mowing lawns as a 12-year-old?

Learn about these questions and more as Sen. MacGregor, R-Rockford, opens up about the advice he gives young people and what motivates him to achieve his goals.

The Importance and Impact of Career and Technical Education in Michigan

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month is about raising public awareness on the crucial role that CTE programs have in preparing our students for success.

With much of the U.S. economy evolving to a new era of advanced technologies, CTE programs have become essential to the economic success of future generations. In fact, eight out of 10 of the nation’s most sought after employees are ones with degrees related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Senate Republicans have continually focused on legislation that promotes STEM education in Michigan. Available STEM-related jobs continue to increase — illustrating the importance CTE programs will have in our educational system in the decades to come. Since 2010, the growth rate of STEM employment in Michigan has outpaced the growth seen in all other occupational employment, and this trend is expected to continue through 2020.

Studies have shown a correlation between CTE participants and a higher probability of receiving some form of education beyond high school. In fact, of all the 2012 Michigan high school graduates who participated in one or more CTE programs, 76.4 percent have continued on with their education beyond high school.

Senate Republicans have recognized the importance of both CTE and STEM education, which have an immediate and positive impact on those students who choose to participate in them, and we will continue to focus on legislation encouraging these programs.

Building off Public Acts 208 and 209 of 2014 — which grant students more ample opportunities to participate in CTE programs by expanding upon “cross-walking” credits and revising some of the high school graduation requirements — Senate Republicans have been hard at work to give Michigan students an edge being successful in their future careers.

Led by Sens. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, and Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, the Senate Republicans have passed several bills this past year including Senate Bill 491, which would make it easier for professionals with expertise in certain fields to become effective classroom teachers, and SBs 169 and 170 that would allow students to receive a STEM certification on their high school diplomas to showcase to universities and businesses their accomplishments and capabilities.

For more information about CTE and what it can mean for you or your children, please visit www.acteonline.org to learn more.

TBT: “Winter Comes to Michigan” newsreel

You don’t want to miss this very cool blast from the past!

After spending decades in a basement in the eastern Upper Peninsula, a 1930s-era newsreel from the Michigan State Highway Department has resurfaced to remind us of the challenges — and the fun — of winters past.

The film, “Winter Comes to Michigan,” created by the precursor agency to the Michigan Department of Transportation, gives us a black-and-white window to the era when Murray Van Wagoner, a future Michigan governor, ran the department from 1933-1940.

The film shows residents enjoying outdoor winter fun at several locations, such as Ishpeming’s Suicide Hill ski jump, fledgling downhill ski areas, outdoor public ice skating rinks and an elaborate toboggan run. Filmmaker and author Bill Jamerson, whose documentaries have explored winter sports and other aspects of our state history, said many of the film’s locations were probably in the U.P., while the toboggan run scene was probably filmed at a winter sports park in Grayling.

On this Throwback Thursday, enjoy a glimpse at how things were 80 years ago and see how some things — like the fun and the tribulations of winter weather — are timeless.

Hometown Tour: Fenton Winery & Brewery

Sen. Ken Horn’s Hometown Tours originally began as an effort to experience the daily routines of some of the most unique, hard-working people from throughout the 32nd District.

Horn recently kicked off his first Hometown Tour of 2016 in Fenton at the Fenton Winery and Brewery (FWB). The senator spent the afternoon with owners Matt and Ginny Sherrow, learning the ins and outs of their operation and the Michigan brewing industry.

The FWB was founded as a winery in 2007, and the Sherrows embraced the booming craft beer industry in Michigan and added the brewery in 2009. FWB has since expanded to include the original winery, a brewery and full kitchen giving those in mid-Michigan a truly local one-stop experience.

After learning the fundamentals of the craft brewing process, Horn learned that his visit would also include the creation of a specially brewed collaboration project titled “Stout Senator.”

Check out the behind-the-scenes look at FWB’s operations and the special collaboration of “Stout Senator.”

Free winter fishing this weekend!

With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 36,000 miles of rivers and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan is home to some of the world’s best fishing.

In an effort to increase awareness of Michigan’s great fishing, the state offers two weekends each year when residents and out-of-state visitors can get together and enjoy fishing — at no charge.

This weekend is the state’s Winter Free Fishing Weekend!

It’s an excellent opportunity to introduce the joy of fishing to children and help pass down the tradition of Michigan fishing to the next generation of anglers. It’s also a chance for even the most experienced angler to try winter fishing for the first time.

During the weekend, all fishing license fees will be waived and vehicles will be able to enter state parks and use boating sites without a recreation passport. Residents and visitors may enjoy fishing on both inland lakes and the Great Lakes for all species of fish, but all fishing regulations still apply.

To celebrate the free fishing weekend, organized activities have been scheduled across the state. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations, including local and state parks, constituent groups, schools, businesses and others.

Residents looking for more details on the Winter Free Fishing Weekend, including a list of activities across the state, may visit www.michigan.gov/freefishing. The website also has helpful information about ice fishing in an article titled “Fishing Technique: Ice Fishing, The Coolest Sport Around.”

Be safe! Recent warm temperatures have tragically resulted in some people falling through the ice. Check out “Ice Safety Tips” on what you need to know before going out on the ice.

We encourage Michigan anglers — and those who have never gone fishing — to get out and take part in one of our state’s premier outdoor activities.

Please remember that having fun starts with being safe.

Highlighting the governor’s budget proposal

Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday addressed a joint-hearing of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees to unveil his proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

The governor’s budget plan reflects many Senate Republican priorities that have and continue to foster economic growth and prosperity for hardworking Michigan families.

Michigan’s economy continues to grow, and that has created a budget surplus. The governor called for additional investments into priority areas, including education, public health and safety, and infrastructure.

Senate Republicans have worked to invest more than $1 billion in increased state funding toward the education of our children over the past five years, and we have worked to expand programs that train and prepare students through career and technical education. We look forward to continuing those efforts to ensure Michigan’s students receive a quality education that prepares them for a future of success.

We have also taken seriously the responsibility of the health and safety of residents. In that effort, the governor’s budget proposed expanding the highly successful Healthy Kids Dental program to include all 83 counties and more than 826,000 children. The proposed hiring of 85 new Michigan State Police Troopers and 350 corrections officers will also help to keep our communities safe.

Michigan’s aging infrastructure needs improvement, and the governor proposed $165 million to improve infrastructure throughout the state. Senate Republicans are eager to work with the governor’s administration and legislative colleagues to find a way to address this growing concern.

The governor also proposed spending additional money for the city of Flint for its ongoing water issues and to help Detroit Public Schools with growing debt obligations.

We must find solutions that not only resolve the issues facing the people of Flint, but for all of Michigan. Ending the Flint water emergency is a top priority, and that is why the governor’s budget plan includes both immediate and long-term support for Flint and the residents impacted by the water crisis.

The governor’s proposed solution for how to deal with the Detroit Public School district’s financial problems is encouraging, and Senate Republicans pledge to continue to work on how best to reform the district so that its 47,000 children receive the quality education they deserve.

The governor’s budget proposal is a great starting point, and Senate Republicans, led by our appropriations committee members and subcommittee chairs, will begin the collaborative process to develop Michigan’s next state budget. Our caucus will proceed deliberatively and consider both the governor’s and House’s priorities, in addition to our own, and will work to produce another sound budget.

As has become the norm in our state, Senate Republicans look forward to approving the new budget well ahead of schedule to provide surety for local governments and school districts as they plan their own budgets, and to help continue our state’s turnaround.

Commenting on the governor’s FY 2017 budget presentation

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, issued the following statement regarding Gov. Snyder’s fiscal year 2017 budget presentation:

“The governor’s budget plan reflects many Senate Republican priorities. Over the course of the past several years, we have made progress in Michigan by adopting policies and laws that fostered economic turnaround and prosperity for Michigan families.

“Unfortunately, recent failures at all levels of government have resulted in the spotlight once again being turned on our state. In the coming months, the Senate Republicans pledge to work with the governor, leadership in the House and our colleagues on the other side of the aisle through the budget process to bring additional aide to Flint. The Senate has already worked to pass more than $60 million in relief for Flint residents, but there is more work to be done. The crisis in Flint points to the need for a statewide dialogue about maintaining and improving infrastructure so that our citizens have confidence in all levels of government to help deliver basic needs like safe water. I am currently reviewing options for a statewide infrastructure plan for all communities.

“The Senate Government Operations Committee will continue to hold hearings on the education and financial crisis in Detroit Public Schools. In order for 47,000 children to receive a basic education, the state will work to resolve more than $500 million in debt. I am encouraged by the governor’s proposed solution for how to deal with the balance sheet, and I am eager to continue to work on how to best reform the district so that the students of DPS have a reliable and sound education plan.

“Over the course of the past few years, the Senate Republicans have supported more than $1 billion in increased funding for all students and we will continue to build upon our commitment to education in the next budget year. Increases to the foundation allowance are necessary to ensure more dollars enter the classroom to improve every child’s education experience. I am encouraged by the governor’s commitment to continue to pay down retirement and benefit costs so that dollars are not siphoned out of the classroom, but instead are available for learning tools and classroom supplies.

“My colleagues and I in the Senate have made commonsense career paths a priority. The governor’s desire to increase funding for universities and community colleges as well as money for technical and vocational training supports the Senate Republicans belief that education should be a pathway for each student to achieve his or her personal career goals.

“The governor’s plan echoes the Senate Republicans’ commitment to Michigan families by increasing funding for Healthy Kids Dental and providing additional resources for clothing allowances to better meet the needs of our most vulnerable children and families. Additional resources to increase public safety through the hiring of additional troopers and funds to deliver prescription medicines are in keeping with the Senate Republicans desire to keep our citizens safe and healthy.

“The budget presentation begins a collaborative process between the Legislature and the governor. The Senate will take time to review the specifics of this plan, communicate with our constituents and begin the deliberative process of working through the budget and working with the House and the governor to deliver a comprehensive plan for Michigan well in advance of our October 1 deadline.”

####

Go Red for Women

Each year, cardiovascular disease claims the lives of nearly one in three women in America. Approximately every 80 seconds, one woman dies from cardiovascular disease, and 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors.

The Michigan Senate and the American Heart Association are once again teaming up to raise awareness about the dangers of heart disease and to educate the public, especially women, about how to recognize warning signs. For the sixth year in a row, Senate Republicans, led by Tonya Schuitmaker, Judy Emmons and Margaret O’Brien, sponsored a resolution recognizing Feb. 5 as “Wear Red Day” in Michigan.

Go Red for Women is a national movement dedicated to increasing awareness of the dangers surrounding heart disease. Up to 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with proper education on what to do if an event occurs, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Most people have been trained to recognize the most common symptom of a heart attack: extreme chest pain. However, women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.

The best way to decrease your odds is to get regular checkups. Although some risk factors for heart disease (such as age, family health history and race) cannot be avoided, other risks like alcohol consumption, smoking, inactivity and obesity are very manageable.

For more information about Go Red for Women and heart disease, visit www.GoRedForWomen.org.

“Go Red For Women” today, and encourage friends and family to do the same by using the hashtags #GoRedWearRed, #WellWomenVisit, #GoRedForWomen and #GoRed on social media.

Celebrating Black History Month

February has long been recognized as Black History Month in Michigan, but not many people are aware of how it all started.

Back in 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson proposed an observance to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford, Michigan’s only president, officially recognized Black History Month in the U.S. Ford called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

One of the earliest records of African Americans living in Michigan comes from the early 1760s when the British replaced the French at Fort Detroit.

During more than 250 years of living in Michigan, African Americans have made many important — and often under-recognized — contributions to our state. Michigan was an active participant of the Underground Railroad even before it became a state. In 1836, thirteen former slaves organized the Second Baptist Church in Detroit. Besides allowing African Americans to worship without discrimination, the church also opened Michigan’s first school for black children and it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Michigan’s black population grew slowly but steadily during the years before the Civil War. Famed black abolitionist Sojourner Truth made Battle Creek her home in 1857. At a time when women, especially black women, did not give speeches, Truth used her remarkable speaking skills to promote equality and the need to end slavery.

As automobiles became Michigan’s central focus, tens of thousands of African Americans moved north, seeking employment in the auto factories. During the twentieth century, the list of African Americans who had an impact on Michigan — and the world — included: World champion boxer Joe Louis, political scientist Ralph Bunche (the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize), Motown Records’ founder Berry Gordy Jr., actor James Earl Jones, Congressman John Conyers Jr. and activist Rosa Parks — just to name but a few.

The Michigan Senate Republicans encourage residents throughout the state to celebrate the tremendous contributions African Americans have made — and continue to make — in our country and great state.