Drumroll, Please!

“Do we need a drumroll?” Life Story Funeral Director Matt Hollebeek asked the fifth graders at All Saints Academy on Tuesday morning.

“Yessssss!” they shouted and immediately began pounding on their desks in anticipation of the big announcement—this year’s winner of the 8th Annual Heritage Life Story Writing Contest.

“Here we go,” Matt shouted. “The winner of the big check is…AUSTIN PHILLIPS!!”

“Yayyyyyyyyy!!!” “Way to go, Austin!” “Go, dude!” shouted his classmates as they high-fived and patted their friend on the back as he made his way to the front of the room to collect his big check. The prize? A $500 scholarship to go toward Austin’s tuition at All Saints. Austin was joined by his mom and his grandma. His Great Uncle Mike, who we wrote the story about, is dying of pancreatic cancer and couldn’t make the celebration.

“But he still thinks his life is great and is closer to God each day,” Austin said as he read his story aloud. “He has family and friends that love him and he is happy to see the sun rise every day.”


Austin went on to say that his Uncle Mike “is an important role model to me. He has taught me to do many things like fishing, backgammon and cribbage…I hope he will teach me more.”

“This is why we get excited about this program,” Life Story Funeral Director Matt Hollebeek told the kids. “Learning early on in life how to ask questions, listen and find out more about someone’s life story is an important skill you can use your whole life.”


He encouraged the kids (before handing out ice cream sandwiches!!) to ask their relatives and friends questions about their lives over the holidays.


“This is a way you can get to know them even better,” Matt said.

Read Austin’s winning story below.

Mike Whalen

Hello. My name is Austin and I am a 5th grade student at ASA. The person I am interviewing is my Uncle Mike because he has an important role in my life. He has taught me many things in his life.

My Uncle Mike was born in Saint Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids in 1956. His mom was Juanita Rose and his dad was Norman Pat Whalen. His sisters are Connie (deceased), Patsy, Kathy, Maureen, and Colleen. When Uncle Mike was born the world was safer then it is now and the people were more pleasant. When he was a baby he loved carrots. He ate them so much he turned orange! When my Uncle Mike was a young boy he had a Springer Spaniel named Jenny, she lived until she was 16 years old.

When my Uncle Mike was in grade school he played the trumpet. He also learned how to jump on a trampoline and he met some old friends. He did get bullied for being short and fat. Thankfully, he was not a bully because he knew what it was like to be bullied. My Uncle Mike went to St. Stephens school because they districted schools and he was in that district. His sisters thought that he was lucky because he got to do things they didn't get to do like go to Belize. While he was there he got to go barracuda fishing, shark fishing and lobster diving.

When he got older he wanted to be a conservation officer in a different state like Minnesota because he thought he could save the earth by protecting the outdoors. My Uncle Mike’s favorite movie was Saturday Night because it had a lot of dancing. My Uncle Mike’s favorite hobby was model rockets because he loved space and wanted to learn more about it.

When my Uncle Mike was 30 to 32 years old, someone named Mike Whitman told him to go back to school and get his CEC certification which stands for Certified Executive Chef. The only thing higher than it is Certified Master Chef. To be a Certified Master Chef you have to take a 4 day test and it costs $6,000. His first job was at Kentucky Fried Chicken and he said “Kentucky Fried Chicken at Robinson road, may I help you please?”

When my Uncle Mike was young he used to go up to his friend's cottage and in 2010, after his friend moved out my Uncle Mike bought the cottage. When he was 16 he met my Aunt Cindy at KFC,  they dated until they were 22 and than they got married. After that they had children. There were 3 girls, Mary Lynn, Amaura and Jessica. The hardest thing he is facing today is Pancreatic Cancer because it is aggressive, persistent, and he is dying from it. But he still thinks his life is great and is closer to God each day, he has family and friends that love him and he is happy to see the sun rise every day.

My Uncle Mike is an important role model to me. He has taught me to do many things like fishing, backgammon, and cribbage. He also taught me not to be afraid in the water and he taught me how to kayak. I hope he will teach me more.