Inspiring Okeechobee: Zierdan inspires with voice and smile

OKEECHOBEE — Although it is probably the first thing people think about when they hear his name, it’s not only his beautiful singing voice that makes Mike Zierdan special. The only time Mike is ever seen without his smile is when he is onstage at the community theatre, and playing a bad guy.

In real life, Mike Zierdan is one of the nicest men in town.

Mike Zierdan, Inspiring Okeechobee

He was born and raised in Saint Cloud, Minn. and graduated from Saint Cloud State University with a bachelor of science degree in music education. He taught middle school in Minnesota for one year before deciding it was time to get away from the cold, and, through an agency, found a teaching position in Okeechobee. He said he was actually hired over the phone to teach music in the old middle school, which is where the school board office is now. Mike said when he got here in 1970, he was not at all sure he would stay. He decided he would give it one year, but it didn’t take long before he fell in love with the position, the town and the people, and in October, he celebrated his 48th year anniversary in Okeechobee. He said it always shocks him when he thinks about the fact that he spent the first 25 years of his life in Minnesota, and compared to the length of time he has been here, that seems like no time at all.

Music has always been a big part of Mike’s life, and many of Okeechobee’s residents probably remember him from his 14 years of teaching music in Okeechobee. Not only did he teach middle and high school music classes, but he also led a middle school band for several years.

Mike also used to give piano and voice lessons, and has been a member of the Community Choir for the last five years. He recently started a men’s chorale for men of Okeechobee and Highlands counties. He said they have had five concerts since June — three in Okeechobee and two in Highlands County. They sing sacred and gospel music and will be starting a new season soon. Their group is open to all men of both counties.

In 1987, Pastor Whipple of the First Baptist Church called him, and asked him to be their minister of education, and he served in that capacity until 2000, eventually overseeing their senior adult ministry and becoming music director. For several years after leaving First Baptist, Mike served in area churches around the lake until he was called to serve as interim music director for the First Baptist Church of Lake Placid in 2004. He served there until 2007, and then moved to First Baptist Church Lake Josephine in Sebring, where he has been serving as music director for the last eleven years.

Mike also puts his music to good use on the stage of the Okeechobee Community Theatre, where he recently played Jud Fry in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma,” which strangely enough, was also the very first role he ever played on the Okeechobee Community Theatre’s stage 27 years ago! Mike is a favorite at the community theater, because he always has a good attitude, and is willing to do whatever needs to be done. If they need him for a big part, he is willing, but if they need him for a small part, he is just as willing. He never acts like a role is beneath him, no matter what size it is, and that makes him a star to the people working to put the shows together. He said the show coming up in a couple weeks, “Mail Call,” will be his 35th role, and he holds the record for the most roles onstage.

Mike said one of the most memorable experiences of his life was a trip to Israel about five years ago where he got to walk where Jesus walked. Since he retired, he feels he is busier than he was when he was working full-time, but he thinks that is because he has more time to be involved in the community. He believes retirement years can be very productive and satisfying if you remain active. He loves to travel and has been to every adjacent state in the U.S., and someday he hopes to get to Alaska and maybe even Hawaii.

Mike is also a big advocate of exercise. He teaches exercise classes every Monday through Thursday morning at Total Fitness and also teaches classes at the Roc on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Mike said he walks two miles every single morning, and can’t remember ever missing a day. If he has time, he walks again in the evening.

Mike said he really loves Okeechobee and would find it very difficult to move. He is very proud to have been a part of the Okeechobee education system, and thinks Okeechobee is a perfect community to raise a family and make a home.

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