After reading the front page article of the June 19 edition of the Explorer Newspaper entitled “Beloved Safeway manager says farewell” describing the successful career of Oro Valley Store Manager Mike Hennings, I felt compelled to write and share the influence Mike Hennings had on my life.
Way back in 1977, I was a sophomore at Canyon Del Oro High School going through the struggles of life as a teenager. I was what could be described as a “wild and crazy guy”; sowing my oats in some not so good ways. I was going down the “wrong path” to say the least. Fast cars, loud music, and avoiding the Oro Valley Police Department’s pick-up truck were my game, but that’s another story for another time.
My Dad, a retired firefighter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had become friends with Mike through his janitor supply business. He shared with Mike his frustration with his overly active son. Mike told him, “Hey he needs a job and I need a hard worker, have him come see me”. My Dad sat me down and said, “Son, you’re out of control and you need to do something productive”. Needless to say, I was not happy and the very last thing I wanted to do was to go to work at a grocery store and bag groceries. That was for geeks, and I was “Mr. Cool”.
Off I went to the Safeway store # 225 at Oracle and Magee (now the Trader Joe’s) to see Assistant Manager Mike Hennings. In next 2.5 years Mike became more than my boss; he was like my big brother. He helped me with school work, girlfriends, making corrections after bad decisions, work ethic, career decisions, buying a car, but most importantly he was an exceptional example of what a good person is.
You see, every now and then, a person comes along in your life that impresses and influences you so much that you change your direction. I was going down a path that was not the path to success. Mike saw that and he stopped me in my tracks and changed the direction of my life. He taught me about kindness, community, working hard, doing the right thing even when it’s the hard thing, how to stack bread loaves correctly, and of course the right way to clean up that mess on aisle 12. Mostly, Mike mentored and coached me in a way that not only I understood, but that I wanted to follow. He coached me on life! He, along with a host of others, shaped my future. He helped me identify my goals and set me on the “right path”.
Fast forward 36 years later: I am the Fire Chief of Golder Ranch Fire District, a major fire and emergency medical services provider serving the Town of Oro Valley, Catalina, SaddleBrooke, and southern Pinal County. One of my firefighter/engineers is Mike Hennings’ son; it’s a small world for sure.
I can honestly say, without reservation, that I would not be where I am today without Mike’s influence. He changed my life! He is the most ethical, honorable, and kindest man I have ever known. He isn’t just a great manager, he is a great leader! He led by example and didn’t just motivate me in my career, but to be a good community member and a contributing member of society.
Mike inspired me to make a difference in the youth of our community and I hope my story motivates others to do the same. So often we find that our kids today are influenced by the bad people they come in contact with. This is the reason we all have a responsibility to influence the children of our community in a positive way. Mike’s way!
I’m proud to know Mike and I wish him health and happiness in his retirement. But mostly, I want to say “Thank you Mike”, you made a big difference in my life and now it’s my turn to pay it forward.
(Editor’s Note: Randy Karrer is the fire chief for the Golder Ranch Fire District.)