Villa Park maintenance man is the big gem in the Hidden Jewel

Mike Knowles

By Andie King

In Villa Park, there is one name that everyone knows: Mike. The residents may not know who their mayor or city officials are, but they know the city’s unofficial mayor, Mike Knowles.

Mike is, officially, the maintenance supervisor for the city, working with Rich Manning. He is the “go-to” guy, the man who knows the history of every city project, and where every nut and bolt should go. 

“He has saved the city money," says former City Manager Jarad Hildenbrand, who worked with him for over a decade, "He knows everyone, and is the hardest working, most dedicated employee I have ever worked with anywhere, private or public.”  

Mike, Hildenbrand explains, is the “encyclopedia of Villa Park.” He knows the backstory as to the “why” and “when,” who made certain decisions and, in his fashion, offers few comments. 

There is never a complaint. Residents rely on him to quietly help with the set up and tear down of a Villa Park Women’s League event, to conjure up an electrical cord or a light. 

He is on the job early, blocking off the parking stalls, setting up the stage and picking up generators and lighting for the Villa Park Community Services Foundation’s popular HalloweenFest. He moves bales of straw, helps vendors, trouble-shoots, and then, after the fun is over, quietly picks up the debris and sweeps the street. 

A 24-hour timeclock
Rumor has it that Mike has, at times, slept in his immaculate, organized office in the maintenance yard, to be on hand, first thing in the pre-dawn morning to set up a city event. He is always on call to help the city, or a resident, with an emergency situation, be it a storm drain or a downed tree. 

“We met Mike during the El Nino, years ago,” said former Mayor Greg Mills. “We had just moved here, and knew no one. The hill behind our house – now Martinique – was coming down. And this skinny guy shows up in our back yard, helping move sandbags in the pouring rain.”   

Mike does many small, miscellaneous things, quietly, which equate to a smooth-running, clean city. He has a battery for the library, a faucet for the city hall sink. He builds frames for event signs, then hangs them, too. He has been known to help elderly residents wheel in their trash cans, snip their hedges, clean up litter left in the street, fix the lights in city monuments, and wash city vehicles on his own time.  

He also does the big things, such as putting up all of the Christmas lights and the tree in the Town Center before the boat parade, and setting out the Santa visit signs for the Santa tour. 

Best of both worlds
He is, says former mayor Rich Ulmer, “respected and liked by all.” 

A single dad, Mike is proudest of his daughter Kelly, who graduated from Northern Arizona University and is working with special education classes in Oregon, and his son Cory, who works for a large corporation. 

A “big-hearted, selfless guy” who loves animals, Mike also rescues dogs and cats. He enjoys gardening in his spare moments. Take note of his flourishing, well-tended pots of peppers and tomatoes in the maintenance yard, the result of his green thumb.  

Mike is fast approaching his 30-year anniversary in the city, and will undoubtedly shy away from any thanks or recognition. Villa Park may tout itself as “the Hidden Jewel,” but Mike Knowles is its one-in-a-million gem.