Mike DeBoer lives in Stark, Minnesota, when his summer residency as a master carpenter at the Steger Wilderness Center is over. When in Stark, Mike makes a living bartending. He doesn’t consider bartending or carpentry his career, however, because he holds a degree in Nursing from Anoka Ramsey Community College. Having graduated in 2014, Mike needs to pass his final exam and then he will be fully certified.
During his first semester back to school in 2009, Mike took Peter Wahlstrom’s ethics course to meet his general education quota. During class, Peter required all students to complete a service-learning project. There were many opportunities in the Twin Cities metro that were not of interest to him.
Then, he heard about an opportunity in Ely with Will Steger at the Steger Wilderness Center. His eyes lit up at the chance to help build the center. “I know that guy. I watched him when I was in school on the TV screens when they would broadcast his adventures and he would be on talk-shows,” Mike said.
After coming up the center a few times, Peter created the Environmental Club, and Mike was one of the first members. Since 2009, Mike has been a regular visitor and resident.
Mike thought Will would be bigger when he first met him. “You meet Will and he’s 5’8”, 140 pounds,” he said. Mike had the idea that Will would be more of a burly, lumberjack-type build. “Big guys need a lot of energy to move around, so it makes a lot of sense when you think about the harsh conditions he’s had to overcome during his expeditions with limited supplies,” Mike said.
Mike brings strong leadership, carpentry knowledge and an ability to teach well. “Being able to teach goes along with a nursing degree, because as a nurse, you’re the bridge between the doctor and the patient,” he said. “I like to take my time to teach and do,” preferring to teach a few people rather than larger groups.
One of the things that Mike is looking forward to gaining lasting friendships and building a fire escape from the third floor of the center. “There’s so much carpentry work to be done here that a carpenter could live and work up here doing maintenance and building new projects year round,” he said.
There is no one particular moment that stands out for Mike. “I just don’t see one particular thing that stands out. The little things add up to the one big collective, and that makes the whole summer experience,” he said.
Mike wishes everyone knew the center is not a resort. “It might seem like a resort at first glance because there’s a bunch of buildings here, a big center and people will come here,” he said. “But it’s our job to communicate to the public what the purpose of this place is.”
When he’s not working on carpentry projects around the center, Mike can be found in town on Tuesdays at the Ely Steakhouse playing nine-ball.

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