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Friday, November 25, 2016

Opinion: Holiday season empty without the Mike Hile spirit

Michael "Mike/Spike" Ashley Hile died on September 26, 2014. He was 54. Mike held no distinguished elected position in the village of Wellsville. In fact, he racked up more than 200 arrests. Most were for drinking in public. When news of his death spread, the reactions ranged from sorrow to ugliness to joy (Joy? really). Quite likely, the greatest sorrow was felt among the then officers of the Wellsville Police Department and staff at the Allegany County Jail. They took care of Mike. They kept him warm, fed and safe. Mike was homeless for much of his adult life. Homeless...in little 'ol Wellsville, NY.
Mike spent many nights sleeping in the lobby of the police station during cold winter months. His feet were blue from the frost.
For my first 18 years, Mike was my next-door-neighbor. He helped me learn to ride a bike. We played catch and football together.
Mike was considered an eyesore on Wellsville's Main Street, as it struggled to present a positive image of the community. Truth is...Mike Hile was the community. The hidden community that nobody wanted to acknowledge.
Mike lost his way early in life. Cheap booze became his daily friend. On more than one occasion, I fueled him with cash, food and rides. He always said thank you.
He attempted rehab programs, again and again and again. When he wasn't under the spell of the cheapest booze, he was witty and funny and caring. His arrests, however, always topped the news but his random acts of compassion rarely did. I know this, simply, because we were childhood friends. I had the privilege to know the "Inner Mike." When I told him my mom died, he cried. He was truly sad for me. He embraced me - yes, a simple, warm and human hug. Perfect, I don't care what you think
As we enter the season of 'giving, season of hope,' perhaps it is the time to be aware of those less fortunate than us. I've had struggles, for sure, but I've not yet been homeless, nor, thankfully, have I experienced what Mike did. For that, I am thankful.  
Michael Ashley drank - a lot. That's what he did. But when he wasn't drinking he helped the same community that often scorned him. "It's who I am," he once told.
To those that didn't know Mike, he may have appeared "scary....a threat." Okay, that's fair...he had a rough outward appearance. But as we transition into the "holiday season," perhaps we can gain some perspective. Not everyone has it 'as good' as we do...not everyone who doesn't look as 'proper' as we do is evil.
Michael Ashley Hile was grateful for this community...the good and it's bad. Maybe we could all learn a lesson.