Little Brothers’ Aten deciding to pass torch

HANCOCK – Mike Aten has been involved with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly for about 35 years, and although he isn’t exactly retiring from the organization, he is stepping down as executive director.

Aten, who became LBFE executive director in 1982 will be more involved with the Little Brothers Foundation to help raise funds to be used to continue the operation of the organization, probably in November.

Little Brothers of the Poor was started in France in 1946 by a nobleman named Armand Marquiset with the intention of giving support to elderly people who were suffering from the after effects of World War II. In 1959, the organization expanded to the United States with an office in Chicago, which is the United States headquarters. Its name became Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. In 1972, an office opened in Minneapolis, and in 1979, an office opened in Boston. There are also offices in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Miami.

The Houghton County Upper Michigan Chapter of LBFE started in an apartment on White Street in Hancock on May 1, 1982. After a year, the office moved to a house on M-26 in Ripley, which they rented with an option to buy. In 1999, a third move put them into their current office on Hancock Street in Hancock.

Aten, who will be 66 years old in November, said he started with LBFE in its Minneapolis office, and at that time there were LBFE chapters there and in Chicago and Boston only. Organization officials were considering expanding at the time.

“I really thought we should look at expanding into a rural area,” he said. “I knew of Houghton (County), and I knew of a need in Houghton (County).”

Aten said he decided to do a report of needs in rural areas for the LBFE board of directors. For the report, he looked at the Midwest and lower Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta area.

“We saw there was as much a need, if not more, in the Houghton area,” he said.

He submitted a proposal to the board of directors to bring an LBFE chapter to Houghton County in January 1982, and it was approved. In May, the first office opened on White Street.

In the 31 years he’s been with LBFE in the Copper Country, Aten said he’s been impressed with how well the organization has been received in the community.

“We’re able to grow because of the volunteers that were willing to help us in this community,” he said. “It was fantastic.”

That support from the community includes financial support, Aten said. Of the nine LBFE chapters in the U.S., the Hancock office is third in fundraising and number of programs.

Aten said at first some people may have been a little skeptical of the philosophy of providing love and friendship for older people the new organization brought to the area.

“They didn’t want a program to come in and leave,” he said. “We always told people, ‘We’re here to stay.'”

Little Brothers recently started operations in Baraga and Ontonagon counties, and in December, they will start operations in Marquette.

“What I like the most here is we don’t stop (expanding),” he said.

Michael Lydon, president of the LBFE board of directors, said he’s been in that position four years, on the board eight years and involved with the organization for more than 12 years, and he’s enjoyed working with Aten.

“It’s great,” he said. “He’s committed.”

Aten has been the driving force behind LBFE, from both the operational and management levels, Lydon said.

The members of the board of directors would like to start interviewing potential replacements for the executive director position as soon as possible, Lydon said. They will advertise locally, regionally and on a website dedicated to nonprofit organizations, which means it will get a national and international audience.

It’s hoped applicants will know about LBFE and its mission, or have experience working with non-profits, Lydon said.

“We would really like the person to be identifiable and in (Aten’s) seat by late summer,” he said.

In talking with the LBFE staff and volunteers, Lydon said they’re enthusiastic about the change.

“Everybody’s looking forward to this transition,” he said.

Cathy Aten, Mike’s wife and LBFE volunteer coordinator, said the change in Mike’s position will take some getting used to.

“I have really mixed feelings,” she said. “I’ve only known our director as him. He’s just been a driving force for Little Brothers. I adore that passion in him.”

Although Mike will no longer be executive director, Cathy Aten said he’ll still be involved with LBFE.

“I’m thrilled he’s staying with the organization,” she said.

Mike Aten said he usually works 50 to 70 hours per week as executive director, but is expecting to work 20 to 30 hours with the Little Brothers Foundation.

“I’ll have more quality time to spend with the donors,” he said.

Mike Aten said he doesn’t think he will ever completely end his involvement with Little Brothers.

“Little Brothers has been more than just a job for me,” he said. “It’s my life.”