“I’ve always loved art and music, and am fortunate to have had a career in which I could combine both interests, as a graphic designer working primarily for the music business — and also for arts and entertainment clients more broadly.” – Mike Diehl
Mike Diehl is not hesitant to speak fondly of his upbringing and the positive impact that this town had on his life’s journey. Now an LA-based creative designer, Mike’s love and talent for the arts were noticed and nurtured early on by some very special individuals with a common thread: each was deeply connected to art, music, and/or design. As he wrote in his blog, “The town was home to three ad agencies in those days (Howard Swink; Lord, Sullivan and Yoder; and the Jay Maish Co.). Two of my good friends (kindergarten) had fathers who were art directors, and other friends’ dads worked in other capacities in the agencies.” Reminiscent of ‘it takes a village’.
It’s amazing that Mike, whose 50th Harding High School class reunion was just 2 years ago, is still in contact with several (9 out of 27, to be exact) of his kindergarten classmates. Starting out on Franklin Street, Mike’s family moved to King Street when he was ten. Mike attended the Wee People kindergarten school in a house on West Center Street (see photo, circa 1955-56).
In the fourth grade at Vernon Elementary, Mike’s life hit a pivotal moment when his teacher, Gladys Edelman, identified and encouraged his unique artistic ability. There was an adventure TV show that aired on ABC titled, “John Gunther’s High Road” on weekends, and “all the students had to watch and write about it – except me!” he said. Instead, Mike was given a mural project; Miss Edelman rolled out a large roll of brown paper and Mike used chalk and pastels to depict the weekly episodes. He even had the chance to select a classmate to help him each week.
Mike’s dad, Howard Harding Diehl, was a traveling salesman and at one point in his career, he opened a store on East Center Street, “Marion Merchandise Mart” which was successful until a big discount store came to town. Early on, Mike learned about the value of a dollar and began earning money by mowing lawns and shoveling snow.
It was time when many teenagers attempted to start a garage band. Mike took it a bit further. “I knew people who played music professionally, so it wasn’t just in school settings that I experienced music being made. (I participated in) jazz combos that played gigs around town, in addition to the rock bands I was in (including Soul Survivors). And for a couple of years, I played in the summer concert band that performed in parks. Starting around 1970, Marion hosted a national drum-and-bugle championship.”
The importance of education and its enormous impact on Mike’s personal and professional growth cannot be overstated. Mike’s high school art teacher, Judy Felgar, was “fantastic” and Mike took every art class you could take. “During my junior year, Ms. Felgar showed me a catalog for Art Center College of Design; it was simply revelatory to see the student work in that book.” He knew he needed to go there to learn to create that caliber of work.
Within the past year or so, Mike has enjoyed a couple of satisfying, successful professional projects. He was invited to join a local (LA area) Board of Directors of an arts library, “The Brand Library & Arts Center”. The Center is dedicated to supporting and promoting art and music, including hosting a live music series in the summer and winter. “My involvement in a group that supports the local Brand Library, dedicated to art and music, allows me to give back in those areas.” Secondly, Mike and a partner developed a successful social media ad campaign, publishing more than 24 creative pieces encouraging people to vote and addressing current political issues.
Mike Diehl is grateful for his childhood and young adulthood in Marion. “I don’t have a single friend who would disagree that Marion was a fantastic place to grow up. And, of course, beyond geography and attributes specific to Marion, it was a fantastic time to grow up in America.”