Mike Gauthier is “Where I want to be!”

Our series on the faces of “Working Leelanau”

By Norm Wheeler

Sun editor

Having tested the waters in other climes, Leelanau County local Mike Gauthier boomeranged back home from South Carolina for good in 2002. He has been slingin’ beers and mixin’ drinks behind the bar at Art’s Tavern since 2008. His grandfather Walt Gauthier was born in 1911 on the property the family settled in the 19th century south of Cedar (near Joe Vlack Memorial Park). Later, Walt acquired the land nearby where Mike lives now. That makes Mike pretty much a Leelanau Lifer. “I moved away a couple times,” he says, “but this is where I want to be.”

“I was raised in Empire until I was 14,” Mike recalls, “then my single mom bought a house on M-72, so we moved without leaving The County.” He attended Glen Lake School through 8thgrade, then knocked around through various high schools (“Don’t ask!”) until he received his GED at 17. Mike remembers his childhood around here fondly. “Back then this area wasn’t the desired place it is now. I remember riding bikes off the docks and into the lakes here when nobody was around.”

Especially memorable for Mike are his three years of attending Camps Leelanau and Kohahna in the late 80’s. “My Mom was friends with Margaret Stevenson. That friendship got me 7 weeks at Camp in ’88 and ’89. Then Mom worked there as a part-time bookkeeper so I could go the third year.” Mike credits those years at the Christian Science summer camp with things he still carries with him. “I learned how to accept everybody, because you were sleeping in a cabin with people from all over the world.” That big blue bus that still slides through Glen Arbor full of campers was then called “The Smurf Mobile,” Mike laughs. “Everybody’d be singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt as loud as they could. Then, when we drove by The Soda Shop (now the Western Avenue Grill) run by Lissa Edwards and Carol Hilton back then, the bus driver would stop, and we would all hiss out the windows. Somebody would run inside and holler ‘BOOM!’ and run back in the bus. We called that ‘the cherry bomb!’”

Mike Gauthier is also a Nurse’s Assistant at Orchard Creek Senior Living and Health Care on Cherry Bend Road near Traverse City. “I work 3 days a week in winter, and in summer I’m on call,” Mike explains. “I took 10 weeks of training and had to pass the state test, which you have to renew every two years to stay current. I worked too hard to get that degree, so I don’t want to give it up.”

And, Mike is a long-time member of the local improv troupe Good On Paper. “The Second City group from Chicago hosted a class at the State Theater in Traverse City in 1997 or 98,” Mike explains. “So I went to an 8 hour improv class one day. Then a few people started having performance sessions and formed the group Disturbing the Peace. I had to try out several times before I got in. One guy thought I was ‘too jokey!’” Eventually that morphed into Good On Paper, now in its 9thseason at the West Bay Beach Resort in their The View nightclub on the second Saturday each month (with summers off). “So I’ve been doing improv for 12 years now.” Mike smiles and shakes his head. “We once performed for over 100 people at the casino in Peshawbestown. When Traverse City had their Comedy Festival our picture was next to Bill Maher on the poster. We held our own; we filled the room. It was kinda cool to be a headliner in a comedy festival!”

Mike enjoys the increased popularity of Glen Arbor that has been swelling for over a decade. “There are more international travelers, which I think is pretty cool. This county is not a secret anymore, and that’s good for my bank account!” You can find Mike Gauthier behind the bar during the evening shift 5 nights a week (“six if Tim likes my attitude!”) all summer at Art’s Tavern in busy downtown Glen Arbor.