Sen. Mike Nofs recently sat down with the Michigan Senate Republican Blog to talk candidly about his life before being in the Legislature.
Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Battle Creek, Nofs has put service to his fellow man at the forefront. It was a lesson he learned very early in life from his father, Big Jim, or “Coach” as most of the community referred to him.
“Coach — you know I am not sure I knew his real name was James until I got older,” Nofs jokes. “I know people say this about their parents but my dad was truly loved in our community. I didn’t realize until later in life that it was because of what he did for the community — not what he did in the community that endeared him so much.”
Nofs has carried that lesson of service throughout his career, serving first as a public safety officer at the city and county level, and later moving on to the Michigan State Police, where he retired in 2002 as the Battle Creek post commander after serving 25 years of distinguished service.
Prior to being elected to the Senate in a 2009 special election, Mike also served six years in the Michigan House of Representatives as well as 10 years as a member of the Calhoun County Board of Commissioners — five of those years as chairman.
Son to James and Florence Nofs, Mike grew up as one of eight kids in a small, three-bedroom home on Arlington Drive in Battle Creek. He recalls his father working four jobs during the year to provide for the family, yet still managing to make time for him and his siblings. Mike says that growing up with that many brothers and sisters taught him a lot about sharing and doing one’s part to help each other.
“It was cozy,” said Nofs. “We had my four sisters in one room, us three boys in another room and the baby slept in with mom and dad. I have a twin sister, and we were the middle kids. It was a tight squeeze, but we all knew what we had to do to help make the house run smoothly. My dad had to work multiple jobs to make sure we were taken care of. It wasn’t easy, but it made an impression on all of us kids.
“Dad was a teacher and a coach, and he taught swimming to local scouts. I’m not sure how he managed it, but we didn’t go hungry. We realized early on that if it was important to us and we were willing to work for it, we could achieve our goals in life.”
Nofs admits that growing up in a modest household was not all struggle and strife.
“My brothers and I helped my dad every summer watering the greens and fairways at the municipal golf course,” Nofs said. “I learned to drive a jeep there. My dad stuck a pillow under me so I could see, and I drove the water wagon around the course as my brother changed the sprinklers. We kids never got paid for helping, but my father used the money he earned from that job to take us all on a two-week family vacation each year — a luxury we could never afford without it. That job not only taught me the value of a hard day’s work, but the importance of family.”
These annual trips allowed Mike to visit all 48 contiguous states as a boy. He recalls being able to see all of the national treasures and parks throughout the U.S. and actually seeing history instead of just reading about it in books. Today, he feels blessed to have been able to experience that, even though it often felt like one chaotic adventure.
“It was like a National Lampoon vacation movie,” Nofs laughs. “Ten of us all crammed into a station wagon — luggage on top with a big canvas tent for all of us to sleep in — traveling across the country. I remember my dad made a wooden rack on top of the car that held 10 beer cases, the old sturdy ones with the flip-up lids. Each one of us had to pack all of our clothes for two entire weeks into one of those. Trust me, you learned quick to pack the necessities and use every corner to make sure you had enough socks for the trip. We learned a lot about how to take care of ourselves and each other on those trips. Like a Tale of Two Cities, ‘it was the best of times and the worst of times,’ but those memories stuck with me over the years, especially now that I am a grandpa.”
Mike’s not just a grandpa, but a grandpa nine times over! He has five grown children and can’t help but smile when he talks about the nine grandchildren he is blessed to have — although he admits he doesn’t plan on loading them up in a station wagon for a two-week tent vacation any time soon.
“My grandkids are everything to me,” said Nofs. “Time I get to spend with them is always time well spent. I like to help out my grandsons in Boy Scouts work on their projects or take all of them fishing. I don’t mind helping them out but I draw the line at campouts — my (nights of) sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag are over. I also enjoy going to my granddaughters’ sporting events. Soccer, gymnastics … you name it, I try to be there as much as I can to cheer them on.
“When I leave work and get back to Battle Creek, my grandchildren are my dose of reality. They keep me grounded and really inspire me to do my best for them and their futures here in Michigan. They are what is important and remind me what life is really all about.”
Nofs is hopeful that he will leave office with the 19th District and the state in better shape than when he started, so that his grandchildren will have opportunities to work and stay in Michigan. Nofs said he fears that society today wants to cushion our youth or convince them that there are no failures in life. He feels that is setting them up to do exactly that — fail.
“I have always told my kids and my grandchildren that it is okay to fail,” said Nofs. “You might have lost that game today or got a bad grade on your test, but it’s how you pick yourself up from that failure and strive to be better, to give 110 percent to your team or ace that next test that defines and builds your character.
“Things can be tough and you can go through some difficult times. By working hard and dedicating yourself to the task — and ultimately accomplishing what you set out to do — is how you find success. Success cannot be handed to you, it has to be earned. That is how we learn to be better sons, fathers and citizens in our community.”