When Michele Linehan walked into her first Boy Scouts meeting as the new boss wearing a dress and high heels, she was received with raised eyebrows.
“They thought the Scout executive had lost his mind,” she recalls.
One camping trip and some Scout training sessions later, they realized she had real Scouting skills. Thanks to her dad, she had been a camper since she was a young girl. She found the Boy Scout approach to life matched her own philosophy well.
“My years of Scouting taught me the value of volunteers,” Michele says. “My volunteers taught me all things Scouting, and I loved it!”
Michele embraced Scouting, and while her Scouting leadership career spanned just eight years, it’s easy to see the organization’s principles at work in the Michele we know today. She is a woman admired for her community involvement and service, a friend always ready with a smile and a big heart, who sees the proverbial glass not only half full, but overflowing. She was eventually nominated to the Order of the Arrow, a Scouting program that recognizes those who exemplify the Scout Oath and Law, “promoting camping and providing cheerful service to others.”
Caitlin Linehan, Michele’s 23-year-old daughter, attests to that. “One of my mom’s favorite sayings when Patrick and I were growing up was, ‘attitude is everything.’ She taught us that even if things weren’t going our way, the way we chose to respond would determine the outcome of the situation. She taught us that if you remain positive, you can often change your own situation for the better.”
Scouting would prove to be a lifesaver when Michele’s charmed early adult life unraveled. She grew up in the California sunshine. Three days after her 18th birthday, Michele fell in love with a college boy at first sight and married him. They shared a love of art and music, and their romance was a whirlwind of galleries, exhibits, and concerts—The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Linda Rondstadt, The Eagles, James Taylor—so many she can’t remember them all. She and Gary attended the first MTV Music Awards.
Gary worked for a small local newspaper in Big Bear Lake, and when Michele wasn’t busy at her retail job, she helped edit the paper. She wrote feature stories in addition to a cooking column. Her column byline was Melanie Miller.
“It was fun, and I enjoyed it,” Michele says. “When I say that my kitchen is just for decoration, it’s not that I can’t cook, I just don’t get around to it very often these days.”
When the couple moved back to the Los Angeles area, Gary worked for a movie trade magazine, On Location, that covered movie production behind the scenes.
“That was a fun two years, but exhausting,” Michele remembers. “We went to many movie premieres, concerts and parties. I met Yakof Smirnoff before he was a household name. He, Dean Martin’s son, Ricci, and I had a few too many cocktails at Dean’s kickoff party for his final album, The Nashville Sessions. Those were fun times.”
Michele edited the newspaper at her community college, and wrote a column for Gary’s magazine. While covering Hank Williams, Jr.’s concert, A Star-Spangled Country Party, on board the USS Constellation, she snapped a photo of an Alabama band member playing his guitar with his teeth.
“That was an amazing concert,” she says. “It’s easy to get burned out on all that activity, so we ended up moving to Sonora in the Sierra foothills where we lived for 16 years.”
For three of those years, Michele drove more than an hour one way to California State University Stanislaus, now called Stan State, to get her degree in economics.
“Financial aid was pretty much non-existent then,” she says, “so I worked full time and paid my own way. I think I valued it a lot more because of that. I loved going to college. I think I’m capable of being a perennial student.”
Michele launched her banking career as a teller at Bank of America, then moved into lending at a small community bank, and started in the mortgage department as receptionist. When a processor became ill, Michele stepped into her position and learned the entire loan process, from origination to drawing loan documents and funding.
While Michele’s career was taking off, her personal losses were beginning to mount. She had lost her grandfather, whom she adored, and soon after her father, due to cancer, while living in Los Angeles. That same year her only sibling, her sister Leslie, was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease. Michele would have another terrible year of loss in Sonora, starting with a miscarriage that left her feeling she would not have children. Not long after, Leslie committed suicide, leaving behind 8-month-old twins, and Michele lost a court battle for custody of the children. She also lost two of the most important women in her life, her godmother and a close friend she considered her adopted mom.
Michele’s sunny nature saw her through the turbulence, and her resilience matured. When life handed her problems, she did whatever it took to solve them. In the following years, she had two children—Patrick and Caitlin. Patrick was not thriving in daycare and Michele had a difficult pregnancy with Caitlin, making it necessary for her to quit her work at the bank.
“At the time I was on the board of directors at a local non-profit involved in daycare licensing and support,” Michele says. It also ran a daycare center. “When Cait was born I decided to stay home and run a daycare out of my home. I think it was the hardest I ever worked.”
With two small children and a house full of other peoples’ kids, Michele’s life was about to change again. Her marriage to Gary was ending and she needed a bigger job that would pay the bills.
Enter the Boy Scouts! A former boss happened to call Michele to ask if she needed a job.
“She was trying to get someone to take on the executive position with the local Boy Scout organization and she thought my personality and organizational skills would be perfect,” Michele remembers.
She was right, and it was just what Michele needed.
“My Dad taught me to always do the right thing, that it’s easier and better to be honest than to remember a web of lies,” Michele says. “He was highly ethical and he passed that on to my sister and me.”
Her work as an executive with the Boy Scouts strengthened in her that already strong value system.
“When you are teaching, you need to lead by example,” Michele says. “I must have said, ‘Your Scouts will do what you do, not what you say,’ a million times. That definitely spills over into the outdoor program, which is such an integral part of the Scouting program. My Dad taught me to leave a place better than I found it. I passed that on. That not only goes for a campsite, but out on the trail, in a park, at home in the garden. We have a beautiful world and we need to nurture and preserve it. If we take care of it, it will take care of us!”
A terrible car accident would change Michele’s life forever. She was healthy and strong, but didn’t recover from the accident as quickly as she should have.
“I had chronic pain, and it got worse and worse,” she remembers. “One day when I finally broke down sobbing in my doctor’s office, they did more tests, sent me to a rheumatologist, and I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Back then, this was a new diagnosis. They really didn’t know how to treat it, and I was a mess. That started my odyssey with narcotic pain relievers.”
It is not in Michele’s DNA to see herself as a victim. She’s a fighter. She read every book she could find on fibromyalgia, changed her diet, exercised through the pain, and got better. When her doctor suggested Social Security Disability, she looked into it, but knew she couldn’t raise her kids on that income. She was determined to go back to work. While helping with a popcorn distribution event with the Scouts, she twisted her back and felt instant pain. She fought through it long enough to finish the popcorn sale and organize the annual fundraising dinner. It was several weeks before she made it back to the doctor for an MRI. She had herniated several disks in her lower back and injured her cervical spine.
After rounds of physical therapy, spinal injections, pain management, and her doctor’s recommendation of surgery, Michele had had enough. She dumped all of her medications and decided she was going to tough it out and get back to work. She and the kids moved to Modesto and Michele went back into mortgage lending, where she has been for 13 years now.
“Our move to Mountain Home was kind of an accident,” she says.
A friend called and asked if Michele could travel with her to Mountain Home to look at some property—the next day. Of course, Michele had a bag ready to go. She loved the Twin Lakes Area and asked her friend’s realtor to look for a small home for her. Not long after, Michele, Patrick, and Caitlin moved to Mountain Home, just before the real estate market fell.
Today, Michele is a vice president and mortgage loan officer at West Plains Bank and Trust Company. Her office is in the Hometown Commons near Lowe’s in Mountain Home. She serves as president of the advisory board at Good Samaritan Society, is the executive officer at Twin Lakes Home Builders, serves on the business and communications advisory council at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home and is active in the Mortgage Bankers Association of Arkansas. She attends nearly all of the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce and Marvelous! networking events.
But mostly, she loves helping young people purchase their first home.
“When they come into my office they usually know nothing about buying a home,” Michele says, “and sometimes have had a bad experience elsewhere. There are a lot of people who don’t have the patience to work with first-time buyers or those who may need some help getting on track before they can buy. I’m really good at credit repair and explaining how the whole process works.”
“My mom always encouraged financial responsibility,” Caitlin says. “From a young age she taught my brother and me the importance of saving a portion of our earnings. As we got older she began to teach us about credit scores and the importance of paying bills on time. One of the most useful things she has ever taught me was how to balance a budget! Ultimately, the combination of these things leads to financial security, and I am grateful to have a mom who sees the importance in that.”
When asked what she thinks is most marvelous about her mother, Caitlin lists: her integrity, perseverence, and compassion. Those qualities in Michele are apparent not only with her customers and children, but with herself, too.
In the past five years, she lost her mother, her fiance, Scott, who died suddenly in California from an illness, and a beloved cat. On the morning of our photo shoot for this piece, she learned she has celiac disease, making her gluten intolerant. She chooses not to be medicated. She will control it, as she does her fibromyalgia, with diet, meditation, and exercise, including yoga. And, of course, camping. She keeps a “go bag” and hiking boots in her car at all times. When she, Patrick, now 25, and Caitlin go on a camping trip, as they did recently to Yellowstone for Caitlin’s birthday, they have lots and lots of camping gear to choose from and tents of all sizes.
“I tried an RV once,” Michele says, “but I’d rather be out under the stars.”
“My favorite thing about camping with my mom is getting to unplug and really enjoy quality time together,” Caitlin says. “My mom is a professional camper, so I love that she always teaches me new things when we go, whether it be finding the best place to pitch a tent, the best way to build a fire, or how to cook properly on a camp stove.”
During the 2009 ice storm, Michele cooked every meal on the grill, and the kids told her it was some of the best food they had ever had.
“Resilience is definitely something I possess, “ she says. “It is the one thing I’d advise every young person to pursue. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, I’ve had wonderful friends and those that have treated me poorly. I have two wonderful kids. I’m lucky to be able to say that other than three long days in fast food right out of high school, I have loved everything I’ve done. I feel blessed every single day, and through it all, I still have a smile on my face!” M! April/May 2017