The death of longtime "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace brought back memories to a couple of local Mikes — who were teenage elected officials when interviewed by the famed newsman.
Now they are 55. But each was elected to the Council Bluffs Board of Education at 18, a curiosity that attracted the attention of CBS News and Wallace.
"He was brilliant," Omaha attorney Michael O'Bradovich said this week. "He had the ability to adapt so rapidly from one situation to another. In a couple of days, he had come to Council Bluffs from a crisis in Beirut, Lebanon, and he fully engaged us."
Recalled Michael Winchester, now a prosecutor for the City of Omaha: "He was legendary. He was the interviewer, and he was doing some of his best work at that time."
Both agreed it was a heady experience to be featured in a 17-minute report seen by millions, and to receive letters from far and wide addressed merely to "The Two Mikes, Council Bluffs, Iowa."
Wallace died Saturday at 93, four years after his final interview. He was known for pointed questioning of world leaders, celebrities and scoundrels, but 36 years ago his focus was a couple of recent graduates of Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln High School.
The "60 Minutes" piece wasn't a mere feel-good story, they said, because there were contentious local issues, including a school-district plan both opposed — "open classrooms" without walls, allowing students to progress at their own rate.
Mike and Mike had grown up together. Their parents were friends, and for a time the families were next-door neighbors.
In high school, Mike O'Bradovich was elected president of his sophomore and junior classes, and then student council president. He ran for the school board after his 1974 graduation, walking door-to-door, attending neighborhood coffees and passing out pamphlets, a process he called exhilarating.
It was quite an introduction to politics. The first time he was eligible to vote, his own name was on the ballot — and he was elected.
Mike Winchester graduated in 1975, and was elected that fall. He said neither ran as a "youth candidate," but rather as people interested in issues and integrity in that post-Watergate period.
By February 1976, The World-Herald photographed them together and reported that both favored retaining old neighborhood schools.
"I think the establishment of Council Bluffs feels we're impeding progress," Winchester said at the time, "because we're not backing the building of buildings."
One school they fought to retain was the old Kirn Junior High School. Unfortunately, it suffered major damage in an arson fire in October 1976, and was torn down.
The Mikes feel that they made a difference. For one thing, they said, they achieved a majority of like-minded thinkers on the board and the open-classroom idea faded away.
In early 1976, a CBS crew was in Council Bluffs for a month before Wallace arrived. When the pair first saw him in his trademark tweed jacket, it was in the lobby of the Council Bluffs Holiday Inn.
"He stretched out his hand," Winchester said, "and without missing a beat, asked, 'What the hell is wrong with an open classroom?' I guess he wanted to see if we were star-struck or would make idiots of ourselves."
That was an off-camera warm-up. The actual interview came later, and the story aired on April 4, 1976, when the two Mikes were 19.
After the "60 Minutes" story aired, O'Bradovich recalled this week, "Many people in Council Bluffs were critical because they didn't think it cast a positive light on our community. So we kind of took the brunt of that."
While an undergrad at Creighton University, O'Bradovich became school board president at 20. Winchester enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Mike O. served one three-year term on the board, and Mike W. served two three-year terms. Both later graduated from Creighton Law School.
Ironically, in spite of their early success at the polls and their national attention, neither sought elected office again.
"I had my fill after that," Winchester said. "When you're 24 and went through what we went through, you get a little jaundiced."
"There is an invasion of your personal life, and I had my fill of being in the public eye," O'Bradovich said. "At the grocery store or when you're out eating dinner, people want to sit down and talk about politics."
The two see each other often at the Douglas County courthouse. Winchester is single and lives near Blair, Neb. O'Bradovich is married, with two grown children, and lives in the Benson neighborhood of Omaha.
They have remained friends despite differing political views, and both regret today's polarized politics. Mike O. calls himself a liberal Democrat, and Mike W. identified himself on the "60 Minutes" interview as an admirer of then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan.
A prized possession on a wall at home is an autographed photo of the future president in front of the State Capitol in Sacramento, inscribed "To Mike Winchester" with Reagan's thanks for his support.
The two Mikes never again met up with the third Mike, Wallace, after the airing of the story titled, "The Kids from Council Bluffs. "
But they retain great memories, including a dinner with Wallace at the Spaghetti Works in Omaha's Old Market, where he entreated a waitress to bum a cigarette from a customer at a nearby table.
When he stepped away for a couple of minutes and diners asked if that wasn't the famous Mike Wallace, his producer told them, "No, but he gets asked that all the time."
The two Mikes continued to follow his career, and they embarked on their own — each in the field of law. But they had enough of local politics in their youth, and never again ran for office.
On "60 Minutes," you might say, their proverbial 15 minutes of fame — 17 minutes, to be exact — was sufficient to last a lifetime.
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