Have you ever wondered where some of these Paul Smith’s College students go?
I was a child of the 1950s who grew up believing in heroes like Superman, the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers. But like most of you, as I grew up I found out that there weren’t very many heroes in real life.
When I first met Michael Xavier Spillane I would never have realized what a hero he would become, not only for me and my family but for people and families all around the world. We worked together in the hospitality industry in Saranac Lake, where he was a recent graduate of Paul Smith’s Hospitality College and I was a recent graduate of the State University of New York. We worked together for a while and became good friends. Like everyone else he ever met, he won me over with his constant smile and quick wit. My children grew up calling him Uncle Mike.
Mike moved on from the Adirondacks down to Miami to seek his fortune, and my family and I stayed behind, and I worked in several different hospitality jobs. Of course, we maintained our friendship through the mail and phone calls. For me, making a good living in a resort town turned out too difficult because the work was seasonal, but that was the only life that I knew. It was at this time in our relationship that Mike revealed to me what a hero he was to become. Mike called me and said he had a house in Florida that he owned, and he would love to have my family move into that home and start a new life in the “Sunshine State.” Knowing that I didn’t have much in financial resources, Mike said, “Look, John, you move down here and live in my brand-new second home. You will not have to pay rent or utilities until you get a job and get back on your feet financially.” You bet that we took advantage of that offer!
Mike continued to work in Miami while my family and I lived a couple of hours north in Jupiter, Florida. In Miami, Mike had endeared many of the people who worked around him at the airport. He would tell us about families who had suffered tragedies and losses, and how he would step in whenever he could to help folks get through a tough situation. Then a life-changing event of unthinkable proportions occurred. Hurricane Andrew devastated Mike’s home in Miami, Florida, and but for the grace of God, Mike’s life would have been ruined. After the hurricane when Mike contacted me, he did not ask for anything for himself. What he wanted most was batteries, flashlights and simple life necessities to share with his neighbors. Yes, the roof on his house was picked up and turned sideways, but his primary concern was for the welfare of his friends and neighbors.
You know that Mike bounced right back after the hurricane, even going to law school at night because he saw the need in the community for professional guidance and legal advice. Sometimes when I visited Mike, I would be surprised at how little he had in his home. He was content with a folding table and chair, a few pots and pans, one or two plates, and plastic forks knives and spoons — even though he was thriving at work. As we all now know, he was not being miserly; he was sharing his resources with people who needed a helping hand all over the world.
I am an old man now, and I had given up believing in heroes long ago, but now I realize that it is up to you and me to step up to the plate and look out for one another in memory of one true hero who lived a life demonstrating the best of what humanity can be.
John Betts lives in Ocklawaha, Florida, and became a certified executive chef, certified culinary educator, National Board certified teacher, Military Sealift Command instructor and a Golden Apple recipient with Mike Spillane’s friendship and support.