New bench honors man who loved City Park

By Corene Brisendine

Every morning, no matter the weather or temperature outside, Bill Michel could be found walking around City Park or the linear trail. In the afternoons, he would huddle together with a group of retired men drinking coffee and discussing any and all the news buzzing around Manhattan in the mall. Occasionally, he would give a dollar coin to children he saw,  just for laughing and being children, and they would smile shyly or squeal with glee as he put the gold coin in their hands.

In honor of these memories, Michel’s family decided to purchase a park bench in City Park as a memorial to a Manhattanite who lived each day with a positive outlook on life and always took note of the little things that makes life worth living.

Vickie Slife, Michel’s daughter, said when the family was gathered around him at the hospice house during the last week of his life in March, she asked her sister and her unconscious father if a bench in the park would be a good way to memorialize him. Although Michel did not respond to the question, her sister, Julie, said it would be a much better place to remember him than the cemetery.

“I don’t know if he would totally appreciate the bench, but he would love the fact there is another bench in the park,” she said.

Slife said her father loved being in the park. She said he would come back from his walks and jot down little things he saw—squirrels, flowers, children — on index cards every day. She likened the cards, which she now keeps, to a diary.

Often, Michel would tell Slife, “They need a park bench right here; they need one here,” as he walked around the park. She said he thought the park needed more benches for runners to stretch on or for parents to sit on to watch their children play.

Michel was also extremely dedicated to walking the park. He would often start his daily routine of walking the park even before he was released for normal activity following many of his various health problems. Slife said Michel had “every kind of cancer there is” and underwent a heart bypass before he died.

“It was his medicine,” Slife said. “Before the doctor even cleared him, he was always back out there walking.”

He was also a generous man. Slife said he had collected gold dollars over the years, and when he retired, he would carry around a pocketful to hand out to random children. He also donated a tract of land to the Audubon Society along Stagg Hill Road with the intention of preserving the nature he enjoyed on his walks.

“Whatever obstacles he had, he always thought there were people more worse off than him,” Slife said.

Slife, who lives in Arizona, said the bench cost about $1,500, but it was “nothing” compared to the memory of her father and what he stood for while he lived.

To commemorate the placement of the new bench, which the city installed free of charge the last week of July, the family will host a ribbon cutting and fun run/walk in honor of Michel’s memory at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Slife said those who knew her father and those who — like him — enjoy walking or running in the park are encouraged to come out in support of his memory.

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