Edgerton man dedicated life to serving others

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Jim Dayton
Monday, September 18, 2017

EDGERTON—Mike Guisleman lived by a simple motto: Little things mean a lot.

“The little thing would be to strike up a conversation or just get to know somebody and make it a little more comfortable for people,” said his ex-wife, Deb Guisleman. “I think he recognized that everybody needs a helping hand.”

Mike spent his 64 years helping others through a multitude of service organizations. He died Sept. 3 at his Edgerton home.

The list of groups and causes that Mike volunteered for is extensive: Ice Age Trail, Rock Trail Coalition, Sierra Club, Edgerton Community Outreach, Rock River Alliance, Friends of Beckman Mill, Friends of Welty Environmental Center, Friends of Edgerton Library, Edgerton Farmers Market and the Optimist Club.

Deb thought that only scratched the surface.

Many people say they don't have time to get involved in their communities. Family, friends, work—it all piles up.

That was never an excuse for Mike.

“I think it was a matter of just being asked,” Deb said. “He literally would never say 'no.' He would go to the meetings. He would volunteer at their organizations and events. He would connect people together.”

Mike believed volunteers who were the most passionate about a project carried an unfair burden to complete it. He felt obligated to help those people if their goals supported the common good, Deb said.

Mike joined environmental organizations because he loved parks and natural areas. He worked to improve recreational access to the Yahara River and connect Devil's Staircase to the Ice Age Trail in Janesville, Deb said.

He spent three years as Rock County parks director. That brought a professional spin to an event of personal importance: He and Deb were married at Gibbs Lake County Park in 1988.

Working in the parks department made Mike a go-to resource when his environmentalist friends had questions, Rock Trail Coalition President Dean Paynter said.

“He had a lot of knowledge of invasive plants and stuff like that. As far as our environmental issues along trails, he was a fountain of knowledge, and he was enthusiastic,” Paynter said. “He knew a lot of people and could make connections if we needed assistance.”

Mike held a variety of positions in the county's human services department as well. That experience pushed him toward social work jobs at the Rock County Jail and in the Janesville School District.

Deb said Mike was humble and had an ability to connect with people from any background.

Those traits might have helped save a life.

After Mike's death, a former student told Deb about feeling suicidal in high school. Mike's counseling through the school district helped the student make it through that troubled time, she said.

“The person said, 'Mike let me talk; he let me cry; he was there,'” Deb said. “I think overall there are very few times in a person's life where you know how you touched other people's lives.”

Although Mike and Deb got divorced, they remained friends and enjoyed each other's company, she said.

Deb wants people to recognize Mike's many contributions to Rock County and apply his values in their own lives.

“We all can find ways to raise each other up in cooperation and community,” Deb said. “That's easier to do than the energy it takes to bring people down."

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