National Golf Month and the U.S. Amateur Championship in Michigan

August is National Golf Month — a time to celebrate one of American’s favorite pastimes.

Golf in Michigan is special. Our state is regularly considered one of the top states for golf — with more than 800 public golf courses and the fourth-highest number of courses in the nation.

No doubt, this is largely due to Michigan’s incredible natural resources — our woods and streams, hills and valleys, and of course our Great Lakes and sand dunes — which have helped create beautiful and award-winning golf experiences.

The Michigan Senate Republicans encourage you to get out and play golf with your family and create memories that will last a lifetime.

There are many outstanding golf courses located right here in Michigan. One of the nation’s premier courses is Oakland Hills Country Club, which turns 100 this year and is hosting the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship this week, from Monday, Aug. 15 through Sunday, Aug. 21.

The club has a rich and significant history. Its first head professional was legendary golfer Walter Hagen, who was a five-time PGA champion. The South Course is known as “The Monster” and has hosted 16 major championships. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Gary Player — among the best to ever play the game — have all won on the South Course.

To help the tournament be a financial success, Sen. Mike Kowall sponsored Public Act 180 of 2016 to add the U.S. Amateur Championship to the list of events for which the Michigan Liquor Control Commission could issue one of its special liquor licenses. The measure received overwhelming support in both the Senate and the House.

We encourage all Michigan families to take some time during National Golf Month to head outdoors and enjoy this wonderful game. Also, if you can, take time to watch as Michigan hosts the U.S. Amateur Championship.

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

Michigan residents of all ages have had teachers who have made a positive impact in their lives.

The overwhelming majority of teachers do it because of their love of education. They demand excellence from their students and challenge them to reach their full potential.

Not only do teachers teach us what to learn, they teach us how to learn. They open doors to new worlds and inspire us to achieve goals that we might not have thought possible. The job of a teacher is not easy, and it takes a special person to be one. Teachers are unsung heroes.

Teachers are unsung heroes, and Teacher Appreciation Week offers us a time to celebrate the impact they have had on all of our lives. It is a chance to recognize the hard work our teachers perform every day and to thank them for everything they do to help us prepare for a successful future.

We sat down with a few Senate Republicans as they talked about their favorite teachers. Above are the thoughts of Sen. Mike Kowall.

By clicking on the following senator’s names, you can also see teacher appreciation videos from Sen. Peter MacGregor, Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Sen. Mike Nofs.

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.”

Thanksgiving Memories: Family bonds strengthen the Kowalls on Thanksgiving and beyond

On a November afternoon in Detroit, 12-year-old Mike Kowall was finding it hard to concentrate at school. His mind kept returning to thoughts of the upcoming weekend and the following week. It would be a short week, with no school on Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Young Mike couldn’t wait for Thanksgiving. The Kowall family, which included Mike’s mom and dad and his two younger brothers and younger sister, would either celebrate at home with cousins, aunts and uncles, or they would all head to an aunt and uncle’s house and celebrate there.

Either way, Thanksgiving was preceded by days of cooking and baking and other holiday preparations.

“There were no store-bought alternatives to much of what we ate. Everything was from scratch,” Kowall recalls today. “So our food was hard-fought.”

Anticipation would rise as the aroma of baking bread permeated the house. On Thanksgiving morning, the family would be up early and head to the Detroit Parade. On the way home, they would stop for hot Vernors or hot chocolate.

When they arrived at their Thanksgiving destination — their home or a relative’s — the whole house would smell of turkey roasting in the oven. Then they would wait for the relatives to arrive.

“It was a real traditional, wonderful Thanksgiving,” Kowall said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

But that particular Friday afternoon at school was different. A school official came into the classroom to talk to the teacher, disrupting the lesson. Mike’s teacher was visibly upset. Then she delivered the news that would change Mike’s life — and a nation — forever: President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

Kowall remembers the day vividly.

“Of course, we were sent home from school early,” he said, “My mother was making fruitcakes, and she was crying. But she couldn’t stop baking. I remember she was upset with me because I had eaten all of the dried apricots, and she needed more for her fruitcakes. So she sent me to the store to get some more.

“In the midst of that horrible tragedy, my mother and father maintained a sense of normalcy for us. Life goes on, and we had to carry on.”

The importance of tradition, family, and thankfulness carried the Kowalls through the Thanksgiving of 1963 and beyond.

It’s those same values that Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, treasures today.

“Looking back to the original reason for the holiday, Thanksgiving means being grateful and giving thanks,” Kowall said. “It is being grateful for the many blessings we have in this state and country, and it is being thankful for family and understanding the importance of family.”

Kowall is thankful for the many wonderful memories of Thanksgiving as a youth. He was born in the city of Detroit at 18th and Buchanan, down by the old Tiger Stadium, and he was raised on St. Marys Street in northwest Detroit. He remembers that time fondly.

“We not only had the Eastern Market, but at that time we had the Western Market as well,” he said. “That was a wholesale market. You could buy a live turkey directly from farmers and dispatch it yourself. But Dad had enough of that growing up on a farm.”

He remembers the traditional Thanksgiving meals of turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and homemade breads.

“My aunt was famous for her pumpkin pies. Mom was famous for her homemade whipped cream. The dark meat from the turkey was always the best. And then, the next day, having turkey sandwiches with gravy on top. It doesn’t get much better than that — but I never did like cranberry sauce.”

Kowall and his wife Eileen strive to maintain Thanksgiving traditions with their family — a task made more difficult with their two daughters and two grandchildren living out of state.

“Thanksgiving will be at our house this year,” he said. “The tradition will continue. Of course, as the family evolves, the tradition evolves. But, as always, no matter what, we begin the meal by saying grace, and giving thanks to God for his many blessings.”

‘Michigan Says Thanks’ to Vietnam veterans

This week I was honored to sponsor an event on the Capitol lawn paying tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War era.

The “Michigan Says Thanks” event highlighted the service of the armed forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and Vietnam War era families, and it paid tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the war.

The ceremony was more than I hoped for. The turnout was fantastic, and we spent time thanking and honoring veterans of the Vietnam War era and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States.

Giving Vietnam veterans and their families due honor and respect was long overdue. Michigan’s Vietnam veterans, whether drafted or enlisted, served our country with honor. Tragically, too many returned home with little thanks for their service and not much help transitioning to civilian life.

More than nine million Americans served our country during the Vietnam War era. Michigan Says Thanks focused on the more than 237,000 Vietnam era Michiganders who reside here today.

Twenty-five historical stations were displayed on the north and south lawns for event attendees to visit. The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) hosted one of the historical stations. An MVAA service officer answered questions and made follow-up appointments regarding benefits such as disability compensation, pension, aid and attendance, and dependent indemnity compensation.

The major sponsors of Michigan Says Thanks were Vietnam Veterans of America Detroit Chapter 9, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Domino’s Pizza, and Breitung Township Traveling Memorial.

A lapel-pinning ceremony was held throughout the event. Volunteers from the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration fastened lapel pins on veterans who served during the Vietnam War era, between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975, regardless of location.

The symbolism attached to the Vietnam veteran lapel pins is significant. The Commemoration honors all Vietnam veterans, whether they served in-country, in-theater, or were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. All were called to serve and the overwhelming majority of these veterans served honorably and admirably.

We can never fully repay those who served us, but we were able to say thank you at this event. May we continue to remember the sacrifice veterans and their families have made for us.

Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.

Sen. Mike Kowall on “Michigan Says Thanks” to Vietnam War era veterans

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is hosting an event on October 8 honoring veterans of the Vietnam War era on the Capitol lawn. Kowall encouraged his constituents and all interested Michiganders to attend.

“Michigan’s Vietnam veterans, whether drafted or enlisted, served our country with honor. Tragically, too many returned home with little thanks for their service and not much help transitioning to civilian life,” Kowall said. “We will spend some time thanking and honoring veterans of the Vietnam War era and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States.”