Show Me the Money

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY NICK CILETTI

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.



“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 fa­voritecities; he’s worked closely along­side mem­bers of Congress.

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