Mike Hollingsworth: A joy that refills your tank

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Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2013 12:00 am

There’s something about a fist bump from Mike Hollingsworth.

Whether they are downtown workers escaping to the gym or co-workers who keep the Downtown YMCA humming, being on the receiving end of that electric tap can be just the morale boost needed to get through the day.

Hollingsworth, a 59-year-old veteran who still has a second-grader at home, is a YMCA janitor. He doesn’t enjoy every part of the job that has him sweeping dead bugs and retrieving men’s sweaty towels.

But Hollingsworth decided early on to make more of the handyman routine than an hourly wage of $9.18 — and for the past three years he’s approached each encounter with a personal greeting, an offer of assistance or a fun remark that makes his time fly.

In doing so, he makes members like Audrey Glenn laugh out loud between arm lifts.

“He pumps everybody up,” said retiree Stan Baumann.

Hollingsworth represents that often underpaid, overlooked workhorse whose simple gestures add a bright spot to the workplace. In addition to 80 co-workers, his positive attitude can reach as many as 6,200 members who drop kids at child care, squeeze in a noon workout or compete in a youth basketball game.

Members say Hollingsworth’s familiar shouts announcing fresh-brewed coffee or spirited words to a tired treadmill walker help build a sense of community among members ranging from county judges to low-income families.

Bob Guinan drives daily from his west Omaha law office because he likes this Y’s diverse vibe, and Hollingsworth is part of that.

Said college student Jerry Wade: “When I see him doing what he does — with joy — it gives me motivation to do my workout.”

Glenn, who’s lost 40 pounds since arriving in 2012 from the Bronx, said Hollingsworth is always good for a dose of humor or encouragement. “And he doesn’t get paid for that.”

Patrons who dig deeper find a father of three who was raised near 18th and Lake Streets, takes the No. 18 bus to and from work and picks up tin cans for extra cash.

“Michael’s had his struggles in life,” said boss Chuck Crinklaw. “He’s easy to talk with, and when you do, you forget about the little stupid things in your own life you’re worried about.”

After getting a GED, Hollings-worth joined the Army and repaired missile radar. A trained machine operator, he spent 20 years in Los Angeles, trying his luck as a singer and piano player before coming home in his early 40s.

By then, his stomping grounds had changed. Kids asked him what gang set he’s with, which makes him both laugh and long for the day when North 24th Street offered more for kids to do.

At the Y, he asks young ballplayers about their grades.

“I tell them how important it is to get an education ... beef up your vocabulary, people think more of you.”

Hollingsworth didn’t set out to be popular; he said he simply feels better by making someone else feel good.

“Walking past a person all day and not saying anything, well, that just doesn’t seem right to me.”

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