Mark Mikel loves living in a small town that feels very big.
The familiarity of knowing and being friends with your neighbors is a powerful feeling for him.
“There’s a certain reassurance to know that I can bump into someone and we can have a conversation about each other’s family, work, or life without it being forced or intrusive,” Mark says.
He remembers a moment when his daughter Kelsey was young, no more than 6 or 7. Rounding the corner of his street after a long drive from his stressful job, Mark says he caught a glimpse of Kelsey.
She was in the yard, dancing in the sunshine without a care in the world. Her feeling of utter safety was complete.
“I knew at that moment that making Elkhart County my home had been the right decision for my family,” Mark says.
In recent years, Mark has worked as the director of the Family Christian Development Center and a high school track and cross country coach, drawing him into even more close-knit communities.
Mark felt the embrace of community even more keenly after Kelsey — who had once danced without inhibition in his yard — died in a tragic accident.
After an emotionally wrenching period that culminated with her funeral, Mark and his wife, Kathy, made plans to go running the day after with a pair of friends. The friends, it seemed, wanted to continue supporting them at a difficult time.
But when the Mikels showed up, they were shocked to find not just the friends who reached out to them, but dozens of others — the cross country team that Mark coached at NorthWood and also the cross country teams of four other neighboring schools.
“The emotion of that support was overwhelming,” Mark says.
That gathering has had a ripple effect, leading to an annual fundraising run, I’m Thankful 4, which supports a foundation in Kelsey’s name that provides scholarships to NorthWood graduates.
“I love being a part of a small community. Some might think that the stereotype of ‘everyone knowing everyone else’s business’ has too many drawbacks. Not me,” Mark says.
Amen to that, Mark.
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