Any conversation about his welding program at A.C. Jones High School would always be about the work done by the students and not his ability to lead them.
That is the way he wanted it.
Word spread quickly last week, and he became the focal point when he suffered a severe stroke. On Wednesday, Jan. 2, he died.
He left behind not only a wife and two grown children but a family of students who meant as much to him as he did to them.
Online, one user wrote in tribute to Mike, “He loved his life and he loved living it. He was definitely a rare but genuine article. We will definitely miss him.”
Dick Beasley, who has worked with Mike the past few years helping him make sure all goes smoothly at the student welding competitions, said that he still remembers what Mike said when he decided to become a teacher.
“I am trying to be the teacher I wish I had,” Mike said. “I am trying to tell students the things I know they need to know in life.”
But back 10 years ago, Mike wasn’t even sure he wanted to teach.
He had retired as a welder at Flint Hills Refinery but wasn’t sure he had what it took to be a welding teacher.
His son Paul remembers his father telling him, “This isn’t something I want to do. I am not right for teaching.”
His wife, Katheryn, added, “He didn’t think he could do it.”
Well, fate stepped in and, although it was surely bad luck that he cut off his finger that summer about 10 years ago, it was likely partially responsible for him deciding that teaching was something he would give a try.
When enrollment opened for his class in 2003, 25 students signed up.
By the second semester, students were pleading to enroll.
This year, every desk was filled and chairs were brought in for several more who managed to squeeze in.
What had transpired over the course of those years transformed not only Mike but 1,000 or more students.
“It was not just a welding shop. It was a part of him,” Paul said. “He absolutely fell in love with teaching.”
Paul could see the change in his father from year to year.
“He had no idea what he had to give those students,” his son said. “The school changed him.”
Superintendent Dr. Sue Thomas said, “Although I only knew Mr. Mylnar for about 2 1/2 years, I admire his work with the students of Beeville ISD. He inspired them to strive for perfection in their work.
“When we asked him last spring if he would be willing to teach the George West ISD students and their instructor, he quickly answered that he would, as long as they understood the type of work he expected out of his students.
“Mr. Mylnar will be deeply missed by all of us at Beeville ISD.”
Jaime Rodriguez, principal at the high school, added, “He had a passion for kids as well as a passion for the skill of welding.
“He built the A.C. Jones welding program to be one of the best in the state. He has taken dozens of students to both state and national welding competitions.
“Welding programs across the state know that when students come to compete from A.C. Jones, they have been taught well.”
It was almost commonplace that his students would take first place at the competitions they entered.
Two years ago, one of his students, James Scotten, took first place at the Skills USA statewide competition at the Craft Training Center in Corpus Christi.
In honor of Mike’s accomplishments through the years, the Nueces County Livestock Show American Welding Society welding contest is now being named in his memory.
Mike was never the touchy-feely sort.
Katheryn remembers those early years when they were just dating.
Mike was sitting in the chair and he turned to her and simply said, “Well, I guess we should get married.”
That was him then. He softened through the years.
The students, the ones he was sharing his wisdom with, were also giving him something.
“You saw more compassion in him than we ever did before,” Paul said.
Katheryn added, “He could not go to graduation because he would cry.”
Leaving a legacy
Mike’s desire was to leave behind a legacy.
And he did.
He left behind a thousand more boys that he helped turn into men.
But he would never take credit for the transformation.
“They had to want to do it,” Paul said. “They had to be taught to do it.”
Written in white paint on a turquoise door inside the welding shop is a simple phrase left there by his students.
“We came in boys. We left men.”
Even his daughter-in law Elizabeth could not help but be influenced by Mike.
“He wasn’t your typical father-in-law,” she said. “I would say he was a big influence on me.”
She is now seeking her teaching certification.
Strive for the best
Paul remembers his father as headstrong and strong-willed.
He believed that hard work paid off.
When Paul opted to join the military, it wasn’t at first with his father’s blessing.
Eventually though, he came around and gave his son the same advice that he gave everyone.
“Go be the best you can be,” Paul remembers him saying. “He is who made me want to be the best.
“He wanted everyone to be the best they could be.
“He didn’t care about making everybody a welder.”
Katheryn, who works at JHS as the principal’s secretary, said that she realized just how many people Mike touched when she tried to select the eight pallbearers for Thursday’s funeral.
“Everybody was important to him,” she said.
When someone needed help, he would drop what he was doing to do what he could.
“I think he would sell the shirt off his back to help one of his boys,” Paul said.
Family was always important to Mike.
When the Mylnar family learned last week that Mike would not recover from the stroke, they began flipping through the albums.
Inside they found a wealth of photos of Paul and Mike and many of Mike’s daughter Robyn by herself — something that took an explanation from Katheryn to understand.
“That is because Mike was always taking pictures of her,” she said.
“She was the center of his life,” Paul said. “All he cared about was her.”
Prime of life
Family was important to Mike and he never wanted to be a burden to anyone.
“He was at the point in his life when he was realizing his successes,” Paul said. “He never wanted to get old. He never wanted to be a burden.”
At 50, Mike was starting to slow a bit but not too much.
He and Paul had purchased a race car and had plans to start a racing team.
Paul won’t let that dream fade either. He plans to finish that car in his dad’s memory.
“It will race this season,” he said.
Class will continue
Even in his passing, Mike’s class will continue. Beasley has agreed to teach the course for the rest of the year.
“It is going to continue,” Paul said. He and his family will also be starting a scholarship fund in Mike’s memory.
“That is something he always wanted to do,” Paul said.
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.