HUNTLEY – Mike Skala has only recently returned to work, both at his business in Woodstock and on the McHenry County Board.
A trip to the doctor for pain in his back and head led to the discovery of a tumor just below his brain stem on the lining of the tube his spinal cord sits in.
“The tumor was large enough where it was actually taking the spinal cord and pressing it against my vertebrae,” the Huntley resident said. “It was cutting off my lower body basically.”
The tumor was too large for radiation treatment, which causes a tumor to grow before it shrinks, so Skala underwent a 13-hour operation in June to remove it.
“I’m still recovering,” Skala said. “I still don’t have everything back, but I decided at the beginning of August that I was going back to the County Board and doing work there. I felt strong enough to be able to do that.”
Reporter Emily Coleman sat down with Skala to talk about why he works in local government and what changes he’s been making since his surgery.
Coleman: What has it been like since the surgery?
Skala: There was a lot of people that were very interested and caring, and the prayers and love and support was quite honestly almost overwhelming. I was very humbled to see how many people care about me. I equated it to living your funeral. In the sense that usually after people pass away, you hear all the eulogies and all the great things and impact they had on people. I kind of got that through this whole experience.
I know I’ve changed my outlook on life because of that whole experience. I think anyone who goes through those kind of experiences, it has an impact on them going forward.
Coleman: Anything in particular that changed? Things you do different now?
Skala: I’m going to try to live life more. I had been a workaholic prior to this, and my wife made a comment to me that really hit home. She said, “I’d rather have you than have the money,” meaning the work I do for the money so that we can have a good retirement. She said, “If you’re not in retirement, what good is it?” And she’s right. People are more precious than stuff.
Coleman: So what made you decide to get involved with local government?
Skala: Back in 1997, our oldest was just about a year and a half. I went to private Catholic school, and my wife went to public school. So we were having that question about how we were going to school our children. I said I don’t mind sending them to the public school system as long as they’re going to get a good education.
We started inquiring as to whether the school district, which was [District] 158, was a good quality school district. They just happened to be having elections that spring for the school board, so I decided the only way to find out was to get on the school board. So I ran and I was elected. That’s how it all started.
Coleman: Was being on a school board what you expected?
Skala: I didn’t know what to expect initially. I learned that there were some very trying times but many more rewarding times. I felt that the 15 years I spent on there was definitely rewarding. You could see, through the kids and through the staff, the positive influences you were having on the school district.
Coleman: Why did you decide to move on to the McHenry County Board?
Skala: I ran for the County Board mainly because I was getting frustrated with how county government was being run. I felt that after spending 15 years at the school board I put in my time there and I could hopefully make a positive impact and a positive difference at county government.
Coleman: Was there something in particular about how the county government was being run that you found frustrating?
Skala: Well, I didn’t see – and I still don’t see – a lot of good focus being put towards doing what’s right for county residents. That’s a frustrating part of county government. There’s a lot of people making political decisions instead of decisions that are good for the people of the county. A lot of the individuals I feel are not doing board work; they’re doing staff work.
Coleman: What do you mean?
Skala: As board members, we’re asked to make decisions, and we should be making high-level decisions as far as policy and direction on where the county should be going. As you start doing staff work, then you’re getting into the weeds. You’re trying to do the work of the people you hired to work.
Coleman: Do you regret leaving the school board? Do you wish you could just go back to the school board?
Skala: There’s a lot of days [when] that is very true. I love being on the school board. Every board meeting we would have students in there. It would either be showing off awards that they’ve won or showing off things they’ve done in the classroom, being able to go into the buildings for open houses and see the smiles, see the happiness, see the love they have for doing their schoolwork. You look at the staff and the staff is energized and engaged in the students’ lives.
It’s a lot of warm fuzzies, not that work should be all warm fuzzies. There is still work to do. But very rarely do you get warm fuzzies at the county. I think that’s part of the problem. I think people just think it’s a political job and it should be more than that.
Coleman: So you mentioned you have a life outside of politics?
Skala: My family is a big part of it. My oldest daughter is going away to college this year, and my youngest is starting high school.
I enjoy recreational sports. I love the Cubs. I love going to Cubs games. I’m an extrovert, so I like being with people even if it’s just at a barbecue or playing cards or something.
Coleman: What kind of recreational sports?
Skala: I enjoy just about everything, probably golf is my favorite but I’ll play just about any sport. We were over in Europe, and they were playing a cricket match. My wife and I were standing there watching them, and the gentleman’s like, “Why don’t you come play?” And I was like, “I don’t know how to play cricket,” and he said, “That’s OK; we’ll teach you.” So I went and played cricket.
Coleman: Were you any good?
Skala: No, I was not very good at all, but they enjoyed it. It was an American making a feeble attempt at playing cricket who didn’t even understand the rules to begin with. It was a fun time.
The Mike Skala lowdown
Who is he? Mike Skala is a member of the McHenry County Board and owns a design engineering and hardware distribution business based in Woodstock.
Hometown? He grew up in Cary and lives in Huntley.
Family? Mike and Carol Skala have two daughters, Charlotte, 18, and Anna, 14.
What quirk is he known for? “I’m always humming and singing and playing music on my computer. My employees always go, ‘We know when you’re not singing, you’re in a crabby mood and we leave you alone.’”