A place can leave a mark on you. For many at Clark Lake today, and for generations before, that is true of this special place. You can also leave a mark. When looking at Mike McKay’s Clark Lake experience, his mark is dramatic. Whether it’s the 100 houses on the lake he has built or remodeled, or all that he’s done for the community, his mark is highly visible and will be long lasting.
How did Clark Lake work its way into Mike’s DNA? Living nearby in Napoleon, he found his way to the lake through friends. One day while sailing with a friend, their Rebel came close to the north shore. In a magic moment, he witnessed newlyweds pulling into a yard. The magic was in how they arrived—in an amazingly cool black 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible with red interior. Sometimes an idea that is germinating feels the sun and blooms. It was at that moment he said to himself “this place is so much fun–someday I will live here.”
In time, that vow would become reality, and he would form a friendship with that couple. It was John Kudner with his bride, Jackie, who pulled into the place owned by Jackie’s father, Art Moehn. Later, Mike remodeled Kudner’s place twice, and Art Moehn’s, once, at Clark Lake.
As Mike’s love of the lake grew, so did his interest in sailing. He acquired a 23-foot San Juan sailor that he kept in a slip he rented from Cal Pittman.
Mike, and his wife, Teresa, were drawn to Clark Lake more every day. But their first attempt to settle at the lake didn’t work out. “I took a cottage in trade in my building business, but we decided that wasn’t the right one.” Then one day, he and Teresa happened down Keast Drive and found a chalet for sale. “We remodeled it, and used it as a cottage, but still lived in Napoleon. Then the property next door came up for sale.” The McKay’s and close friends bought the property, and subdivided it. “We built our new home in 1993 on one of the lots.” (photo below)
As the result of his building career, Mike’s mark on Clark Lake can be seen repeatedly around the 7.3 miles circumference of the lake. There are about 370 lake front properties, and his work can be seen in almost a third of them. That goes for houses and other structures–like the Pointe Bar and Grill and the new Gear Garage at the Beach Bar. Below is a sampling.
Mike McKay is the gold standard for people who want to build at the lake. How did this happen? Mike says building was in his blood even as a kid. “I made spice racks out of cardboard, glue and twine. I built a workbench, a fort—I was always building something.” In school, he took drafting and design classes. And Mike has a firm handle on style. All this was excellent preparation for what happened next. “I grew up on a farm in Coldwater. When I finished school, it was time for an adventure, and I headed to Florida.” His interest and talent earned him a position in visual merchandising at a department store in Fort Myers. “At Maas Brothers, I designed sets both in the store, and created the storefront windows. I designed bridges for fashion shows, created the lighting, and even picked out clothes for the models.” To this day, Mike shops women’s fashions stores for Teresa.
Mike returned home in 1970. Having the experience of a home construction program under his belt, he worked various construction projects. That included building a subdivision–Meadowlark Acres in Napoleon. He didn’t stop there. “I went on to build Country and Oakhill Estates, and Fox Farms, nearby.
More houses built by Mike on Clark Lake.
With that important experience underpinning his career, Mike bought out his partner in 1977. “It was then that I moved into a more interesting arena—building on lakes.” For Mike, that meant designing houses to capture the best views from as many angles as possible while paying attention to quirky property lines and remembering the budget. You can’t subdivision-blueprint on the water. “People have issues like where to store their toys, so I build structures that look like carriage houses that are really double deck garages for boats, trailers, and dock pieces.” And there are other lake-specific concerns. “Some wood species for flooring should be avoided because of humidity and water. Heated floors are popular for walk outs. That cuts down on dampness and balances it with the dryer, air conditioned atmosphere, upstairs.”
Mike is not quiet about standing up for Clark Lake. For a while, the health department demanded artesian wells, known by many here as “springs”, must be capped when new construction takes place. “I fought this. Clark Lake is replenished this way, and we don’t need to lose this source of water.” The authorities relented, and artesian wells (springs) continue to flow.
In his Jackson County career, Mike has encountered special requests that you may find surprising. “When the master bedroom can’t be on the first floor because of property limitations, I have installed elevators for people who don’t want to haul suitcases up and down stairs or may have mobility challenges.” And some special requests remain secret. “Several of my projects have safe rooms, and some are full-fledged.” That means a safe door complete with a spinning wheel and secret code. “It’s like a gun safe, but you can walk into it.” While under construction, Mike’s crew pours concrete into the walls, floors and ceilings. Communications like phone and internet are pre-wired. “People store valuables, guns, or have a place to go if they fear a break in.” You wouldn’t know about these safe rooms unless the owner told you. “You never know what’s behind ‘door number one’.” Sliding mirrors or bookcases conceal entrances, just like in the movies.
It’s not a surprise that Mike McKay served as president the Jackson Homebuilders Association. And Mike’s mark on Clark Lake goes beyond physical structures. He was the founding member of the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation (formerly Clark Lake Foundation). He was its president for many years and remains as a director. He was deeply involved in a major engineering feat– moving the Graziani cottage from Kentucky Point to its present location in the County Park. When the dam at Ocean Beach was close to failing, Mike’s leadership at the Foundation and his construction expertise led to upgrades and repair.
Mike is an early riser. In those quiet Clark Lake moments at dawn, is there anything that leaves a mark on him? “I love the view, the peace and quiet. It’s not unusual to spot a kingfisher, blue heron, coyote, or deer.”
Mike says Clark Lake is packed with memories, “not only for Teresa and me, but for our kids, who also connected to this lake, and now have it in their DNA, too. Clark Lake has made an indelible mark on me, and I am blessed to be a part of this wonderful community.” And Clark Lake is better for Mike being here.