Mike Jones passed away March 22; his funeral was March 29. I only knew Mike through our membership in the Muleshoe Art Association. I knew he liked art and cats, so we had those two things in common. But I came away from his service smiling and happy to have learned more about him.
Photo courtesy of Tommy Jones
Mike’s brother, Tommy, who spoke at the service, told us he was six years older than Mike, which made it seem like they grew up as two only children. Tommy moved to Houston in 1972 while Mike was still in high school, and for many years they only saw each other at holidays and family gatherings.
Mike enjoyed photography and worked with the journalism classes at Muleshoe High School to produce the annuals, especially the one the year he graduated. That interest in photography is also why you would see him taking pictures at all the events and functions he attended here in Muleshoe. After high school, he worked in a camera/photography shop to make money for college. In recent years, he shared photos on Facebook with almost 4,000 friends.
After graduating from Muleshoe High School, Mike went on to West Texas State University, graduating in 1978, which we will talk about later, and went to work for First Bank Southwest, headquartered in Amarillo, as a computer analyst. He did well with the company, but his claim to fame came in 1999 when everyone was worried about what Y2K would do to their computer systems, and he was the person who converted all the bank’s networks. He went around to the branch offices in area small towns and taught those people how to use the new programs, too. Tommy said Mike was the ultimate computer nerd, was good at his job, and all the people in those banks liked him and took care of him when he would come to their town to work on the computers.
But then in 2003 Mike had a stroke which changed everything. Tommy was given the task of deciding Mike’s fate after the stroke, and after much prayer with Dr. Stacy Conner, he chose to give Mike a chance at life. Stacy said the fact that Mike lived was a miracle, let alone becoming functional, which he did after eighteen months of rehab in Houston and Galveston. Then he came home to Muleshoe to live with his mom, Clara, who continued helping him with regaining his abilities.
Despite the months of rehab, Mike still suffered from something called “Left Neglect,” which means he could not mentally register anything to his left. If you approached him on his left, he would not see you. Part of his rehab focused on learning to cope with handicaps like the left neglect, to trick himself, so to speak. His mother would do things like put food on his left to make him turn that direction. When they played SkipBo, she would put the draw pile of cards on his left side, and when they ate, his knife and fork would be on his left. A mother’s love and determination helped Mike become functional and gain the control to peddle his bike, which became his mode of transportation.
Mike felt like he was safe to drive a car, but his peripheral vision was obviously compromised because of his left neglect, which meant he couldn’t pass the driver’s test for a license. So the bike became his mode of transportation. At some point, Allen Smyer provided him with a golf cart, which worked well for some time and was replaced later with another golf cart. Certain routes through town were approved for his daytime only trips by the Muleshoe police chief at that time, and all was well. But then followed an incident between the golf cart and a pickup truck, which led to appearing before a judge who reminded him that he had no license, no liability insurance, and had no business driving.
And then all was well for several years until he suffered a hip separation which brought another stint in the hospital and more rehab. But this time he couldn’t walk or take care of himself and things in the house, so the decision was made to move to the Wheatfield Assisted Living facility in Clovis in October of 2022.
Tommy removed his belongings from the house and found a collection of T-shirts that summed up the events and organizations he was a part of, all kinds of shirts! From Rotary to roping events, Tour de Muleshoe, even a Milwaukee tool shirt from Higginbotham’s for watching a demo of a tool!
Things were going well at Wheatfield, too. Mike said it was like living in a luxury hotel: “I get three meals a day, they clean my room, they do my laundry, I have great activities, movies, live entertainment, Bible study, Internet, and cable TV. I get to meet new people and hear their stories. And I get to keep my cat.”
Is that a great attitude or what?
The cat went from Leonard to Lenore with the nickname Lenny but was always a good friend to Mike. Well, a couple of times they had a disagreement that required a few stitches, but the cat was always there for him. And the cat now has a home with one of the attendants at Wheatfield. Mike would be relieved.
In January he was elected President of the Wheatfield Residents Association and had a full life. And then life ended with a heart attack.
But what a life he had! He suffered short term memory loss after the stroke and couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast, but he could tell you all about friends and things he did from earlier in his life. It might take time to process his thoughts, but he could name Alpha Phi Omega fraternity brothers from his time at West Texas State University, WT as it was and still is referred to, professors he studied under when a student there, trips he had taken, kids he met working with the Big Brother program in Amarillo, things that made an impact on him in his early life.
Clara served as a cub Scout den mother, dad Charles was a scout leader, so Mike was active in Boy Scouts at an early age and reached Eagle Scout status, even helping two of his little brothers in the Big Brother program become Eagle Scouts. He received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Boy Scouts of America for that and his work with kids in the Muleshoe area. He would step up and help out when the need arose, not just in Boy Scout projects. He would read to kids at the library, be in the parades, take part of many activities around town.
In his eulogy, Dr. Stacy Conner said when he first met Mike, he was shy and quiet; after the stroke, Mike was talkative and, as Stacy put it, became a chatterbox, and enjoyed taking part in group activities. He always managed to be present if a meal was to be served. Mike joined Rotary and ate with them every Tuesday. He drove a three-wheel bike but was a member of the Muleshoe Road Riders, a motorcycle club. He was a member of First Baptist Church and was there every Wednesday night for the pot luck supper. He also enjoyed attending functions at the Cowboy Church. Stacy said if he remembered to extend the invitation, Mike attended funerals and took part in the meal afterwards. He always attended the football season’s pre-game meals, but not always the game later. He frequented the Senior Center and ate their meals, too. He was a member of the Muleshoe Art Association and always enjoyed refreshments at meetings. And whoever he sat with at these functions heard tales from his life at WT, people he knew, professors he had, places he had been, experiences he had had. He just chattered away.
I had no idea Mike had been a mainstay in so many activities and programs. I just connected him to riding his bike or golf cart around town and seeing him at art association meetings. All the stories Dr. Conner and Tommy told about him made me smile. My little story here really doesn’t do him justice, though. You had to be there to hear the comments and stories and appreciate what a kind, thoughtful person he was.
Mike was a familiar sight in town and the community will miss helping him when he needed help. I don’t think his protected existence would have ever happened in a big city.
Photo courtesy of Tommy Jones
Tommy ordered a scatter box for Mike’s ashes and has them in safe keeping with him. The plan is to take Mike to Palo Duro Canyon, right there close to his beloved WT, in the latter part of May when flowers will be blooming, an appropriate resting place for his ashes. He will be surrounded by beauty and close to a place that played an important part in his youth.
This painting was something Mike created at Wheatfield. The staff named it “Aurora Borealis.”
But I think Mike’s title fits the painting and his life.
Roll on, Mike.
And don’t forget to look left.
A special thanks to Tommy Jones and Dr. Stacy Conner for sharing their notes from the service and allowing me to use their information to tell Mike’s story.