Profile: West Michigan Sports Commission executive Mike Guswiler – The Grand Rapids Press

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 11, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

Mike Guswiler Profile

Imagine Mike Guswiler’s surprise the day he got a text message at work, and staring back at him was a photograph of a rat.

“I wrote something like, ‘Guess what we got?’” said Julie Guswiler, his wife of 18 years. “He said, ‘I don’t know, but I think that is a rat I see in the picture.’ He told me I wasn’t allowed to stay home with the kids anymore.”

Guswiler, the 44-year-old executive director of the West Michigan Sports Commission, is the coolest father in the world, according to his four children, Olivia, 16; Ian, 14; Owen, 6; and Pierce, 5. One reason is each child gets to pick out his or her own pet, rats included.

“We have a dog, a cat, a rat, a parrot, three fish and two ducks,” Owen proudly said.

The rat, named Trixie, was Ian’s pick. The ducks, a pair of Indian Runners named Zimmy and Thera, were Olivia’s idea.

“Our daughter was really, really pressing for us to get them, and we caved in,” Guswiler said.

The male duck chases the golden retriever around the backyard of the Guswilers’ Rockford home. The cat is afraid of the parrot. The rat will crawl into Ian’s Snuggie when Ian is watching television.

All this adds up to a household reminiscent of a three-ring circus, with Guswiler as the ringmaster.

It’s not that Guswiler is a pushover when it comes to his children. Those are effective people skills at work.

Guswiler has spent the past four years getting athletes, businessmen and -women, and community leaders together on the same page with the sports commission, just like he does with his family and all those pets.

Guswiler said he’s a quiet and shy guy by nature. Dick Vander Molen, chairman of the sports commission, said a reserve personality is just what this position requires.

“He has a quiet demeanor, and he doesn’t get excited very quickly,” Vander Molen said. “If he flew off the handle every time something happened, he would be off the handle a lot.

“He has a good personality for dealing with jocks, and sometimes that’s not easy. He has to deal with board members, and sometimes, that’s not easy. But he has figured it out.”

‘Great people’

The Kent County Board of Commissioners introduced the sports commission in 2007 to enhance youth and amateur sports opportunities throughout the Grand Rapids area.

Guswiler was hired to lead it, with a staff of only two people: executive administrative assistant Natalie Rose and events manager Eric Engelbarts II.

They rely heavily on interns and volunteers for support.

The teamwork has brought in a number of high-profile sporting events since its inception, including the U.S. Open Table Tennis Tournament in 2010.

Its signature event, the Meijer States Games Of Michigan, returns for its second year Friday with opening ceremonies at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park. Approximately 5,000 athletes are expected to compete in
25 different events across West Michigan through next Sunday.

“It’s year-round planning,” Guswiler said. “Fortunately, we have great people. This is a major project of Eric and our entire board.

“One thing that we can consistently say: We are a staff of three and a board of many, but putting on 25 different sports, opening ceremonies and all the different things that goes around … it takes a lot of volunteers. Last year, we had about 300 volunteers total. That number will go up this year.”

Those close to Guswiler agree his quick sense of humor keeps them laughing around the house and office.

“Growing up with older brothers, you either had to make them laugh or run fast,” Guswiler said. “I probably did both.”

Early years

Guswiler is the sixth of seven boys born to Mary Silver, of Port Charlotte, Fla., and Eugene Guswiler, of St. Claire Shores. He grew up in the Detroit suburbs. Not surprisingly, the family loved sports.

“My mom was a recreational golfer,” Guswiler said. “The day before I was born (July 15, 1966), she wanted to go out on the course. She called up her friends and urged them to go golfing with her, but no one would take her up on it.”

Guswiler and his brothers enjoyed numerous sports, including soccer and baseball. Their father taught them how to snow ski and water ski. Hockey was too expensive for them all to play, but mom figured a way around that: She turned their backyard into a hockey rink during the winter.

“I would go out at night, after the boys went to bed, and I would put water down on the grass in the backyard,” Silver said. “And once I got it going, I used hot water from downstairs to smooth it out. They would get up and be able to skate around and play in the backyard.

“But I should have had a screen put in across the backyard. They broke all of my back windows with the puck.”

Eugene Guswiler said he always wanted a daughter, but that’s not why he kept having children.

“The Pope had more to do with that than anything,” he said.


Five things to know about Mike Guswiler:

• Family time is a priority for Guswiler. Wednesday is Game Night, with Cranium being a favorite. TV night is Thursday. The teens and parents turn on NBC and gather for “Community,” “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and
“30 Rock.”

• Where did the Guswilers hold their family reunion last August? They rented a suite at Comerica Park and hung out during a Detroit Tigers game.

• Guswiler’s mother, Mary Silver, always cooked her seven sons’ favorite dish on their birthdays. Guswiler’s favorite — saffron yellow rice and mock chicken legs — is still his favorite today, but now it’s his daughter who makes it for him on special occasions.

• While friends and family describe Guswiler as quiet and reserved, he does like his heavy metal music. He lists AC/DC as one of his favorite bands.

• Guswiler was a member of Sigma lota Epsilon, which is an honorary management fraternity at Central Michigan University.

Eugene Guswiler, who has 17 grandchildren and two great-grandkids, once told his boys he would leave all of his life savings to his first son who names one of their boys Eugene.

He’s 0-for-17.

Or is he?

“Mike told me that Owen is Welsh for Eugene,” Eugene Guswiler said. “I thought he was making it up. But I looked it up, and he’s telling me the truth.”

Overcoming shyness

Guswiler gets his sense of humor from his parents, and he said it has helped him get over his shyness.

“My crutch always was humor, making people laugh and trying to have fun,” Guswiler said. “But as I got into my professional career, I saw if I wanted to advance and excel, in any industry, I had to step out.

“When I was with the Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau, fortunately, they put me into the Nancy Skinner ‘Speak Up Be Effective’ course. It was a terrific course.”

When Guswiler’s parents divorced, Silver and the boys relocated to the Petoskey area. He graduated from Petoskey High School in 1984 before continuing his education at Central Michigan University to study business.

“When he was a certain age, I said, you know Mike, you are a really good student, and you know how to study well and keep up with your studies,” Silver said. “Why don’t you become a doctor? A dermatologist would be best. It would be a good career.

“But he told me he didn’t like looking at other peoples’ sores. That was it for his medical career.”

Guswiler instead pursued a career in hospitality after landing a summer job on Mackinac Island while attending CMU.

“I worked as a dock porter for the Murray Hotel, and I rode around on my bike and greeted guests on the dock and gave them directions and tried to take on as much luggage as I could,” Guswiler said. “There were times when I had so much luggage I couldn’t see over it.

“It led me into the fun of the industry and the social aspect of making sure that people had a fun experience.”

After college

Guswiler eventually received an internship at the Hyatt Regency Oceanfront Hotel in Hilton Head, S.C. Jobs after graduation included positions with the Sheraton Chicago Hotel Towers in the early 1990s, the old Harley Hotel in Grand Rapids, a beverage manager with Cascade Country Club, a sales manager with the Cascade Dominican Center at Marywood and the convention services department at Amway.

Beginning in 2000, Guswiler worked in sales for the Kent County Convention Visitors Bureau, where he served until he was named the sports commission’s executive director in 2007.

“If you have an event that you want to bring to Kent County, the first person you want to call is Guswiler,” Vander Molen said. “He has become the clearinghouse for it. He can tell you if it works, if it won’t work and here’s how we can help you.

“On a daily basis, Mike is the go-to guy. He is a down-to-earth guy who makes you feel comfortable, and he has the smarts and demeanor to pull things off. Five years from now, you won’t believe what the sports commission will be. It won’t be Indianapolis, but it will be close.”

Indianapolis created the first sports commission in the U.S. in 1979. Since then, it has hosted been more than 400 national and international sporting events in that city, with an economic impact of more than $2 billion.

Blind date

The Guswilers met on a blind date in December 1990 in Chicago. It didn’t start off well.

“A friend of mine wanted to introduce me to her cousin, so I went to a party, and I was meeting people and having fun,” Guswiler said. “Then Julie arrives, she comes in and walks right by me and goes into the kitchen. I was on a couch with a friend, and I told him, ‘That was strange.’

“But she had no idea we were supposed to meet because my friend forgot to tell her. … We did end up striking up a conversation.”

The Guswilers wed on May 8, 1993, and have been living in their Rockford home for about nine years. Home-improvement projects are one of their favorite activities to do together. They built a pen in the family’s backyard for the ducks, and dug out a pond so the ducks have a place to play and bathe. The Guswilers also have built a tea garden and laid out a patio.

“We have built up and gathered a bunch of woodworking tools, and she will buy me a tool for Father’s Day or Christmas,” Guswiler said. “And then, she pulls out all the tools and buys the lumber, and I will come home and see her with all the tools that she bought me, and she is working on different projects.”

Looking for adventure

Guswiler may be quiet, but he has an adventurous side. Matt Emery, of Rockford, remembers the day Guswiler pulled into his driveway riding a new motorcycle.

“I had known him for 10 years before he got it, and he never mentioned that he was even thinking about it,” Emery said. “But that’s what makes Mike Mike. He isn’t afraid to learn something new and do something new. He’s not a wild personality, but a more risk-taking personality.”

Matt Guswiler, of Fenton, said Mike always has been adventurous. When they were kids, he said, they would build snow ramps in their yard and ski. The brothers still get together, meeting in Idaho this past winter for a snowboarding trip.

Guswiler is only 18 months older than Matt Guswiler, so the two were close growing up.

“He knew what he wanted, and he was confident and went out and did it,” Matt Guswiler said. “Whether it was in his schoolwork or choosing who he wanted to be friends with, he knew what he wanted.

“He taught me how to work hard in school. When you see your older brothers move on to college, he becomes a role model in the direction you need to go. He provided guidance and direction where I wanted to go.”

Ian said there is no question who the disciplinarian is around his home.

“Mom,” said Ian, when asked who cracks down on him about getting his homework done.

Guswiler tells his children every time he purchases a pet for them that it is their responsibility to take care of it.

“I think that lasts maybe two weeks,” he said.

Guswiler has coached Ian’s and Olivia’s soccer teams, and has been an assistant coach on Ian’s lacrosse team. He said he likely will get involved in coaching once again when Owen and Pierce sign up for soccer.

“He is the best dad in the world,” Owen said.

And what makes Dad so great?

“He plays Frisbee with me,” Owen said.

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