July 30, 1947 - Nov. 25, 2017
Michael Mackes liked mentoring teenagers who were adrift in high school.
The Army major reached youth through the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps he created at South Park High School and the Scout program he founded in the Erie County Sheriff's Office.
The lasting impact he had on their lives was evident up to Saturday, when he died at 70 in Hospice Buffalo from complications of cancer. His hospice nurse was a former student in the ROTC program, said Mr. Mackes' wife, Melanie.
"She told me that without knowing him for those four years, she would've never gotten to where she is now," Melanie Mackes said.
Born in Berwick, Pa., Mr. Mackes grew up with very little and without his father in his life. After graduating from East Rochester High School, he enlisted in the Army and served three years. He found various work as a paramedic, a Baltimore police officer and proprietor of his own security company.
After marrying the former Melanie E. "Lonnie" Wannamacher, and with a baby on the way, Mr. Mackes decided to rejoin the military. At age 32, he went to Officer Candidate School and graduated as an honor candidate, his wife said. He also earned associate's and bachelor's degrees in criminal justice from the SUNY regent's college.
Over his 20 years of active duty with the Army National Guard, he worked out of the Masten Avenue and Connecticut Street armories, eventually rising to become the chief recruiting and induction officer for Western New York.
Mr. Mackes rose from the enlisted rank of private to the officer rank of major. "He was very proud of that," said his son, Matthew.
At the same time, Mr. Mackes was working part-time two nights and weekends as a reserve Erie County sheriff's deputy in the Holding Center. Under Sheriff Timothy Howard, he helped develop the after-school Erie County sheriff's Explorer Post #505 to introduce students to a career in law enforcement. He also acted as a military liaison between the Army and Sheriff's Office.
"If they wanted to make a career of the Army, they got a taste of it through the Scout program," said his wife. "He told them his motto was, 'Success is a choice.' He said, 'I had to make that choice.'"
After retiring from the Army in 1993, he started the Junior ROTC program at South Park and led it for 13 years. At South Park, Mr. Mackes also helped organize food drives, clothing donations and was known to help individual students, including one suffering from cancer who received a scholarship to Cornell University, said his son.
It was the accomplishments of those individual students who made him feel as though he made a difference, said his wife.
A handyman the couple hired to do repairs at their East Amherst home recognized Mr. Mackes from the ROTC program.
"He said, 'I'm a roofer and I'm starting my own company because of you,'" his wife said.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by two more sons, Christopher and Michael; a daughter, Karen French; two sisters, Penny Roberts and Linda Faull; and three grandchildren.
A funeral service will be offered at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 in Amigone Funeral Home, 5200 Sheridan Drive, Amherst.