Show Me the Money
Atypical weekday starts promptly at 6 a. m. for Richard “Rick” Michael. After all, being in charge of Lee County’s Economic Development Office isn’t a job for someone who wants to sleep in.
“lot of my days start with early morning meetings, catching up with executive board members of the Horizon Council, meeting with various businesses,” he explains.
Michael has an important job— to help oversee and stimulate financial growth in Lee County. But it’s not that Michael took a clear- cut path to this job he started in January. As a matter of fact, it was a unique chain of events that led him here in what has become a lifetime of interesting and very memorable moments.
As a boy, Michael bounced back and forth between northern New Jersey, just outside of New York City, and western Pennsylvania. At one point in Pennsylvania, he attended a two- room schoolhouse, built by his grandfather after he returned from World War I. The small school was a far cry from his school in North Jersey, which he described as one of the most modern and progressive in the country at the time. During a 2008 business trip, Richard Michael had the chance to visit Venice, Italy, and admits there were many things to love about the city, especially the food and canals.
Michael spent part of his childhood with the Big Apple in his backyard. From worldclass museums to the United Nations, field trips to some of the world’s most important landmarks were all within reach.
Michael recalls one field trip in particular in the late 1960s where he went to Italy as a 13- year- old Latin student. He remembers being inside the Sistine Chapel, standing in the corner with a buddy and gazing up at Michelangelo’s painting. The rest of his class had already left. Shortly after, a man, in what Michael’s young mind described as a “white robe,” approached him and his friend, put his hands on both of them and blessed them. Suddenly, others inside the Sistine Chapel swarmed the two, almost as if it were they who had just received a papal blessing. It was Pope John Paul, in all of his holy glory.
"BELIEVE IT OR NOT, ANTHROPOLOGY AND ARCHEOLOGY ARE WHAT MICHAEL STUDIED IN SCHOOL, ALWAYS HAVING A PASSION FOR WHAT CAME BEFORE HIM AND WHAT SECRETS IT COULD REVEAL ABOUT PRESENT DAY. “I BEGAN MY CAREER, PRIMARILY DOING HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND ARCHEOLOGY WORK."
— RICHARD MICHAEL
“It was just one of those unique, unique moments where you had no clue what was happening to you,” Michael recalls.
Michael graduated cum laude from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, making stops in New York and his native New Jersey along the way.
Believe it or not, anthropology and archeology are what Michael studied in school, always having a passion for what came before him and what secrets it could reveal about present day.
“I began my career, primarily doing historic preservation and archeology work,” Michael explains. But in the mid- 1970s, work was hard to come by, not just for Michael, but many people across the United States. And so he took matters into his own hands, writing a grant that funded a survey program that allowed him to identify architecturally significant places in Pennsylvania.
History played a big role when he proposed to his first wife, Janet. Michael planned to propose during a road trip from New York to Williamsburg, Va., around New Year’s Day 1975.
“What I had said to her is that I will propose to you in a place that will always be there and some place that you’ll be able to see for the rest of your life,” Michael says.
That place would be the Lincoln Memorial, which she could see every day on the backside of a penny or a five- dollar bill.
Life was great to the couple. In the early years, there were successful jobs in manufacturing and two beautiful children, but in 1992, life wasn’t so kind. Janet was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It was a disease she fought valiantly, through more than half a dozen reoccurrences.
Her health is what ultimately motivated Michael to move his family down to Florida, where he says insurance laws were friendlier at the time and his wife wouldn’t be limited on the amount of money insurance would pay for her treatments. Sadly, Janet passed away in 2000 at the age of 46.
But a decade later, love found Michael again, in his new wife, Jody, who’s a successful animal illustrator and artist.
In between their busy schedules, the two lead a very active and happy life together, traveling to places like Savannah, Ga., and Scotland, a personal favorite for his wife.
There are also two wheaten terriers that keep the couple on their toes.
When he’s not on the clock, Michael loves to spend time with his family, which he’s happy to report is growing in numbers. He has a daughter who lives on the east coast, and a son who’s in the military in San Diego. His son and his wife had a baby boy late last year. Michael says he can’t wait to meet the new bundle of joy.
“Skype has really helped,” he explains as his face and eyes light up. “You can really see his personality, and he looks just like my son.”
Michael’s friends know him as a devoted husband and strong leader.
“He just really believes in what he does,” says Pedro Leon, who’s known Michael for more than a decade. The two worked together in Volusia County. “Michael loves a challenge, and his approachable style and strong communication skills place others at ease so that the job can get done. He has a wonderful and genuine sense of humor, and he’s a great person to spend time with.”
From father, devoted husband, captain of an economic ship and grandfather, Michael has made a career— and a lifetime— of molding himself into whatever he needed to be to survive. And not only has he survived, he’s prospered— much in the way he hopes he can help Lee County prosper as well.
Michael in front of the Urquhart Castle, which sits beside Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland. Above: Staying closer to home, Michael and his wife Jody enjoy a day at Epcot.
An avid sportsman, Michael enjoys fly- fishing in Yellowstone National Park. Above: Washington D. C. is one of Michael’s favorite
cities; he’s worked closely alongside members of Congress.