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The Great Michael Burgwin
August 8, 1929 - March 23, 2016
First Inductee into the ACHF in 2016
"Animal Control: A program that effectively treats the symptoms while seeking to eliminate the causes by compassionately using the tools of education and enforcement."
By John Mays, ACCA
The passing of greatness will never be easy to endure. The loss of any loved one is difficult to deal with, but the loss of any individual whom impacted several lives hurts the deepest depths of our hearts. The faces and memories fade with time, but the legacy of a select few will remain long after we part this world. Michael Burgwin and his legacy will always remain a cherished part of the animal control profession.
The original idea for the National Animal Control Association was born in November of 1977, when 15 animal control experts from 11 states met at the Texas A&M Conference. By September 1978, enough interest had been generated across the country to launch an organizational meeting. On September 27, 1978, 48 people representing 24 states met in Denver, Colorado to organize the first nationwide group representing the interests of animal control agencies, Animal Control Officers, humane officers and state animal control associations. During this meeting, Mike Burgwin was named NACA’s first president.
I first met Mike in New Orleans in 1986, part of a conference I attended to help improve my skills as an entry-level ACO. Little did I realize at the time, Mike would shape and mold my future, long after my ACO days had passed. At first glance, Mike was an intimidating figure – tall, lean, muscular – I later learned a semipro football player turned motivational speaker for animal control officers. Mike had a bellowing voice, and he wasn’t afraid to use it. His “high-tone” vocal inspirations made everyone stop in their tracks, which was well-utilized during times of discourse in meetings. He was a good listener, and he expected the same respect when it was his time to speak.
I don’t recall the exact moment when Mike and I were first introduced, but I remember the handshake. Mike often commented that he learned a lot about a man by their handshake. Being an old farm boy, I’m guessing that I was allowed to enter Mike’s world with that initial handshake, a moment that, unknown to me at the time, was the beginning of our relationship.
Since New Orleans was my first conference, what I expected – and what I received – was an eye-opening experience. While I could dedicate an entire magazine issue to the New Orleans conference, I believe that any stories I could relay should remain securely locked in my head vault. After all, this is a PG-13 publication.
After heading back to my employer in Kansas, I decided to learn more about Mike and the association that he fathered. I kept current on the association’s business, learning much from my regional representative, Jim Weverka in Nebraska (another great man and friend). While attending the conference in Providence, Rhode Island in 1988, Jim had learned that he was to be promoted on the Board to the position of Treasurer. Since I was the only other person attending the conference from Jim’s region, he asked if I would consider taking his position on the Board. Reluctantly, I accepted, but I’m blessed to have made that decision. My position on the Board brought me closer to Mike, not only on a professional level, but a personal level as well.
I spent many a day and night working with Mike. He told me countless stories of the early days, the struggles and achievements. He and his wonderful wife Lorna opened their home many times, not only for me, but for countless others involved in the profession. He and Lorna were gracious hosts, however, I do recall several instances in which I traded work for food. Mike was a contractor, a miracle worker with his hands, so he was always building something. I always helped when I could, although he never allowed me to use his rather unusual saw after a first-time mishap. If only he had provided me with some training….
At some point during my Board service, I was placed in charge of the marketing committee. It was my job to come up with some resale items to sell to association members. Mike agreed to help me with some ideas. Jackets, hats, lapel pins, all turned out to be big sellers. My idea for a visor – and Mike’s idea for the belt buckle – hit hard times. We sold few of those items, until Mike came up with the idea of the “apron” – an apron printed with the association logo, complete with pockets for all “that money” we would earn. He and I would wear the apron, promoting our high-quality resale items. While I looked reasonably idiotic wearing the apron, Mike embraced the garment and went off in the conference hall to sell. And sell he did. Sales initially were slow, so his booming voice got the attention of attendees in the exhibit hall. He later returned to the booth, his designer apron pockets bulging with cash, a salesman skill that knew no competition. Little did I know that designer Mike and salesman Mike “merged” into this super-being? Once we ran low on stock, Mike started to offer some items “2 for $5.00” which proved a hit. Seeing the dollar signs, Mike upped the ante to “3 for $10.00.” While I questioned Mike about the amount, he simply shrugged it off as “NACA math.” People flocked to buy items at the $10 rate, and I tried to keep pace with the inventory. Change was rarely offered, as Mike informed each customer of “limited cash flow” even though his bulging apron told a different story – any excess was simply a “donation" to the association. We walked away from the conference selling over $2,000 in resale items, which was a record. Oddly enough, we still had leftover visors and belt buckles, which eventually ended up as “prizes” years later at some academy programs – or the local landfill.
Mike was no stranger to the animal control profession. He was a leader worth following down the path to professionalize animal control. He earned an Associate’s Degree in Law Enforcement from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California. Extensively utilized on the lecturing circuit for his valuable knowledge of animal control issues, Mike was the cofounder and past president of the Oregon Animal Control Association, the Washington Animal Control Association and of course, NACA. He also served as the Editor and Publisher of the NACA News and as Executive Director of NACA until his retirement in 1994. Mike had thirty-five years of government, retail, construction and utility management experience and has written and spoken on animal control-related issues for many years. His professional resume was as interesting as the man himself:
* 1950 through 1960 - Martinez, California Police Department, Street Officer, Patrol Sergeant, Lieutenant
* 1961 to 1964 - Donner Lake, California, water company manager
* 1964 to 1966 - Incline Village, Nevada, owned and operated a cocktail lounge
* 1966 to 1970 - Portland, Oregon, paint store manager
* 1970 - North Slope, Alaska, labor foremen
* 1971 to 1972 - Portland, Oregon, Deputy Sheriff for Multnomah County
* 1972 to 1979 - Portland, Oregon, Assistant Manager and Manager for Multnomah County Animal Control
* 1980 to 1985 - Seattle, Washington, Seattle Animal Control Manager
* 1985 to 1994 - Indianola, Washington, Executive Director, National Animal Control Association
* 1994 to 1995 - Honolulu, Hawaii, Chief of Enforcement, Hawaiian Humane Society
NACA’s first corporate office was maintained in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the mid-1980s, the NACA office moved to Indianola, Washington where Mike and Lorna resided, where it stayed until he retired. From NACA’s birth to 1995, the NACA office operated out of the personal homes of the president, executive secretary, secretary/treasurer or the executive director. With the growth of the association and the addition of paid staff, working out of a family home became crowded and unsustainable. So on 9/22/95, NACA purchased its first property, located at 229 S. Church Street in Olathe, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City). After the purchase was completed, Mike was the first to volunteer to help with the renovation. Utilizing his superior contractor skills, he single-handedly built our first conference room, enclosing an old carport and pouring the concrete floor. It was tight, but we could fit the entire board in that room. It was unofficially dedicated as “Mike’s room.” He and Lorna were able to visit all 3 of the corporate headquarters, each one a tribute to the man whom had started it all. Property ownership made Mike very proud, as he felt that the association reached a status that equaled some of the other “players” in the United States. Sadly, the first NACA property has since been torn down. NACA went on to purchase two other replacement buildings; the last building, which offered the ACO Memorial, was sold and the ACO Memorial abandoned.
If we were lucky, Mike and Lorna always stopped by during their “tours” throughout the United States, driving that massive rig disguised as a motor coach. Even after his retirement from the association, he still found time to call and chat with me about business. Mike had a sharp tongue and an even sharper wit. While he liked to joke, he also had a serious side. He wasn’t afraid to describe someone as a nit-wit, if that’s what he saw in that person. Believe me; we both talked a lot about nit-wits. He solicited my help in writing a book about NACA, but I simply did not have the time. My work commitments consumed my life, and I have deep regrets about not helping put his history on paper.
In life, Mike made history – In death, he wrote history. While many of us old-timers are in the twilight of our lives, we continue to cherish the personal and monetary sacrifices that both Mike and Lorna made to keep the association moving forward. Their contributions cannot – and should not – ever be ignored. Mike’s legacy encompasses the profession, not just an association. No matter what feelings you may now have regarding the current state of affairs, reflect back to the early days of this profession. And thank Mike Burgwin for where you stand today.