Be More. Do Good. – A motto embodied by Mike Fales ’75. Professor Fales has served Olivet College in a variety of roles for more than 25 years, including alumni director, fundraiser and professor. Currently, he holds the positions of director of service learning and campus ministries and assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and religion. In addition to the great work he does in his formal roles, Professor Fales is also renowned as a mentor, spiritual leader, friend, trusted adviser and teacher to all.
“I consider the Distinguished Alumni Award to be an especially high honor as it comes from my OC alumni peers recognizing a lifetime of work for a place we all love,” Professor Fales said. “I am a person of faith and I believe I am doing what I am called to do.”
Olivet College Roots
As a student in the 1970s, Professor Fales originally came to OC to study secondary education and graduated with a degree in political science, minors in history and vocal music education, and a secondary teaching certificate. He was recruited to the debate team and immersed himself in campus life as a member of the College Choir, Adelphic Alpha Pi fraternity and many other clubs and organizations. These experiences, and especially the relationships built at Olivet College, continued to hold a special place in Professor Fales’ heart regardless of where life took him in the years after his graduation.
Following his time as a student, Professor Fales lived and worked in Washington, D.C.’s hotel and restaurant business for sixteen years. It was during this time Professor Fales met his wife, Judy, and they began a family. Drawing upon Professor Fales’ own positive experiences as a student at Olivet College, Mike and Judy returned to Olivet to raise their children. Still today, the couple calls Olivet home, and Judy has also become a valued member of the OC family, serving as director of Burrage Library.
“Former Alumni Director Laura VerPlank ’38 and I were very close friends. When she retired, she spoke with me a number of times about the possibility of my return to the college. There were difficult times in the 90s, especially for alumni who did not recognize the school we graduated from. I was highly motivated to help our school recover,” Professor Fales explained. “Today, The students continue to inspire me. The success of our Service Learning Program is really due to them. If they weren’t willing to give up their weekends, Christmas breaks and spring breaks, there would be no program. One of the hardest parts of my job is to convince people that our students like to serve total strangers. It is a truly beautiful thing.”
Since Professor Fales’ return to Olivet College, he has impacted a broad range of programs and students. Most prominently, he has organized countless service learning and global learning opportunities for students. Through such trips, Professor Fales has made learning through service possible for hundreds of Olivet College students and made a tremendous difference in communities across the world. And beyond simply organizing the trips, Professor Fales works alongside students during every volunteer opportunity. Further, he is noted for the exceptional scope of learning he infuses into his international trips, providing an immersive experience for students that includes an emphasis on social justice issues facing native cultures and their tradition.
A Heart, Soul and Hands for Service Learning
Guided by the college’s mission in his work, Professor Fales has a personal mission to keep the spirit of service learning alive and to share it with others; however, it is evident his tireless efforts provide opportunities to students for their own growth.
“I have never been on a service trip where I didn’t get more out of it than what I gave. I have met so many interesting people and made so many friends over the years. There is a seasonality to our work, and I look forward to each season. Certain parts of the year we are in Port Austin in the northern Thumb of Michigan. In November and April, we are in the mountains of Tennessee. In December and during spring break in March, we typically do disaster relief work somewhere in the South,” Mike said.
“We think of the lessons our students learn while doing this work, but I am equally interested in the lessons our students teach to others while they are serving. It really is a two-way process. Often our students stay in contact with people they have met while serving for years to come.
“One of the most beautiful things I get to see is when a student goes on a service trip somewhere having never done this kind of work before and is able find themselves, find a calling that motivates them to do more, and in many situations, actually changes their career path. It regularly changes lives.
“The Service Learning Program draws students from every sector of the Olivet College campus, and somehow they all get along with each other. I believe that relates to the personalities of those who have a serving heart.
“In addition, we have had a long line of students who have gone back to service organizations we serve through and become staff members with those organizations. In May, we had a group of 15 who served in Puerto Rico for 15 days. At the end of that trip, three students were so moved by that experience they went home for a few days then returned to serve for most of the summer. Those are the kind of things that happen all of the time. I just officiated the wedding of a former student who loved service work and now works as a social worker serving autistic adults. Even those who stay in the more traditional careers continue to serve in as many ways as possible.
“Our program has been around a long time, but we are always looking for new service opportunities and learning experiences for our students. It is our hope that the best is yet to come and we always look at it through that lens.”
175 Years of Olivet College
In addition to Homecoming traditions, including honoring wonderful alumni, Olivet College will also celebrate its 175th anniversary during the weekend of Sept. 28 and 29. For Professor Fales, being honored during this incredible milestone fuels the passion inside him for OC to burn brighter. In fact, Professor Fales even served on the Anniversary Committee during the college’s 150-year celebration during 1993-94. Today, he still feels strongly that Olivet College is preparing students to serve as the leaders of the future we so desperately need.
“I believe Olivet College was created for the purpose of bringing diverse groups of men and women together to learn from and grow with each other,” Professor Fales said. “I am most proud that we are still doing exactly that 175 years later.”
Celebrate Professor Fales at Homecoming
Learn more about 2018 Homecoming and OC’s 175th anniversary celebration, and register for events now, including the Alumni Awards Celebration Friday, Sept. 28. In addition, Lou Diaz ’59 and Breanna (Bath) O’Keefe ’08 will be honored for their commitment to Olivet College, and Laura Fiorino ’02, Chris Gumper ’96, Vern Hazard ’83, David Millward ’97 and Kathy (Hughes) Roche-Wallace ’00 will be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame.