A Superior man who left a mark on the community, “Big Mike” Almond will be remembered for his smile, his laugh, his caring nature, his initiatives and his hugs.
“He was bigger than life and the big size of him, he had big arms to reach around everybody,” retired Superior Community Policing Officer Bonnie Beste said.
Almond’s reach included founding an annual child safety event at the Superior Public Library; teaming up Superior police officers with children from all backgrounds for floor hockey games, bowling and trips to Huskies games; spearheading a diversity committee at Northern Lights Elementary School; serving on the city Parks and Recreation Committee and as a statewide representative of the Parent Teacher Association.
“Everybody has got great stories about him and how they’ve been involved with Mike,” Beste said. “He’s touched a lot of people and the community is going to miss him and notice that he’s gone.”
Friendly jokes, a shared background and the fact that people continually confused the two brought Almond and John Staine together. They met roughly nine years ago through the Superior-Douglas County YMCA.
“People always used to mess us up,” Staine said, although Almond was bald and Staine has an afro.
Almond started cracking jokes about it. Between his positive attitude, their shared New York background (Almond was from Brooklyn, Staine from the Bronx) and having daughters close to the same age, the two became friends.
“Mike’s been like a brother to me,” Staine said. “We were real with each other; there wasn’t no fakeness. We could be ourselves.”
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A man of action
Both men have a calling to help others. Almond served as a mediator, a connecting point in the Superior community.
“He was always that person in-between,” said Staine, who has launched similar efforts in Duluth.
When Almond saw a problem, he’d search for a solution. He was, say those who know him, a man of action. Not only would he come up with the idea, he would carry it out. Almond had a gift for getting people involved and bridging divides.
“What I want them to know in Superior is he tried to connect the community,” Staine said. “With lots of people it’s not real. He tried to bring the realness out of people and make it a community you want to be in.”
Almond was a great ambassador to the community, Superior Police Chief Nicholas Alexander said.
"He was kind of an unsung hero in that way, in the terms that he probably didn't get a ton of direct acknowledgement for the work that he's done, but he really did do a lot to help build relationships and bring people together," the police chief said.
And he could be persistent, according to Chris Stenberg, chief executive officer of the Superior-Douglas County YMCA. Stenberg recalled how Almond, a former boxer, asked repeatedly for a heavy bag to be installed in the men’s locker room. Eventually, they compromised with a portable heavy bag in a classroom.
Beste met Almond around the time he pitched the idea of the child safety event to her in 2012. She said he was fantastic to partner with.
“It started out that we worked together, but it was no time at all before we were friends,” Beste said. “I know that’s the way it is with Mike with a lot of people.”
Almond reached out to Superior Mayor Jim Paine and asked to work with the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Committee.
“He believed that our community had an opportunity and an obligation to build strong values and character in children, but he also saw his work as a chance to help every kid have some fun,” Paine said. “I’ll miss his voice and his work.”
Ellen Chicka, who rode to PTA meetings in Madison with him, said Almond had the best advice and stories.
“I'm so sad that he is gone,” she said. “He was such an amazing person.”
"I enjoyed him as a person," Alexander said. "He was fun to talk to, have a conversation with."
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Almond enjoyed barbecues, was a Dallas Cowboys fan and had just finished remodeling his house, Staine said. Above all, Almond was a father of four daughters.
"He loved his kids; he and his kids were close," Staine said. "He was proud of them."
The members at the YMCA, who would see Almond nearly every day, have taken his death hard. Almond really cared about people and took the time to know them, Stenberg said. He encouraged others, and made them feel valued.
"He connected with everyone here," Stenberg said.
In the days since Almond's death, members and staff have shared stories with each other, memories of their friend.
"Talking about Mike always ends with a smile," Stenberg said.
The big New Yorker with a heart for the community will be missed, but his legacy may live on. Stenberg has already heard people talking about stepping up to carry on Almond's projects or help in other ways.
"I think the legacy inspires others, when they see what he's done, when they hear it, they say, 'You know, I would like to carry that on, because I can see that this is important and that there's a gap, and I'd like to step in,'" Stenberg said. "I think generosity inspires others."