Every Tuesday morning, at the Men’s Network Building at 4242 W. North Avenue in Sherman Park, you can find Mr. Mike Staples helping cook breakfast for the weekly breakfast meeting of a group of men. While he's working, you can see him interacting with every person who walks through the door. Behind Mr. Staples smile and talkative demeanor is a family history that he is extremely proud of and a passion for helping others.
Born on the third floor of the Mount Sinai hospital in Milwaukee, Mr. Staples has lived his whole life in the Milwaukee area. He attended Rufus King High School and always had a passion for mechanical and architectural drawing. Growing up with eight siblings, he enjoyed spending time with a close-knit family. He spent a lot of time outdoors. After high school, he attended various institutions such as the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and Stratton College, where he studied electronics. During that time, he worked at the Babcock & Wilcox factory in Milwaukee that produced seamless metal tubing. Working there for seventeen years prevented him from fully completing his degree. Instead, he started his own home-improvement business. Eventually, Babcock & Wilcox closed and Mr. Staples completed his associate’s degree in electronics at ITT Technical Institute.
Mr. Staples has always been passionate about woodworking and home-improvement because it gives him the ability to create. He notes that one of his most significant achievements was completing the Genesis Beauty Salon, which had previously been a Piggly-Wiggly grocery store. During the past 30 years, he has found success in the field. He finds no need to advertise his services because he has the pleasure of working for some prominent clients in the city. He feels that there is a lot of satisfaction in woodworking and seeks to instill this idea in young men. Mr. Staples explains that “If you know how to use a hammer, you will never starve.”
Currently, he advocates for shop classes to be reinstated at North Division High School and hopes these classes can be held at Washington High School as well. He reflects that during his time at Babcock & Wilcox, he rose within the ranks, eventually becoming a high mill foreman, one of the most prestigious roles in the plant. He states, “I contribute that walk to [the fact that] the only training I had was in high school shop classes.” Ultimately, he feels that teaching young adults the skills that served him so well through an industrial arts program would be extremely beneficial to their success upon completing high school.
Tied in with Mr. Staples' advocacy for education is his connection to the Men's Network. Through this organization, Staples spends much of his time helping and interacting with other community members. When I asked him for the history behind the Men’s Network he smiled and said, Let’s start from the very, very, very, very, very beginning.” He took me back to the story of Joseph Emory Davis, a plantation owner in the 1800s. From there, he established the story of Benjamin Montgomery, a slave in Mr. Davis’ plantation, who became extremely wealthy and eventually owned his own land and managed the plantation. Mr. Davis always encouraged Benjamin to start his own community, but Benjamin was unable to fulfill that dream before he passed away. Eventually, his son, Isaiah Montgomery, started a community to honor his father. That community is located in Mound Bayou in Mississippi.
The connection between the Montgomery family and the Staples family comes into play with Mr. Staples’ great-grandfather, William Staples. Originally, William Staples was born onto the Jones’ plantation in Kentucky. William Staples was an assistant to Major Staples, a member of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. William was always with the Major, and, one time when the Major was injured, William helped carry him for over 300 miles to get help. Soon after this, the wife and daughter of the Major went to the War Department and fought so that William could get a small pension for his achievements. William adopted the last name Staples due to the pride he felt working for the Major. Eventually, financed by the pension William received from the War Department, he moved to Mound Bayou as he was friends with Isaiah Montgomery. There, the Staples family continued to grow in their wealth and success.
One powerful story that Mr. Staples told me was a time when his uncle was about to be “taught a lesson” in the town he was living in. The townspeople got together for a meeting to discuss lynching Mr. Staples’ uncle, but the town banker stood up and said it was a bad idea to fool with the “Staples boys” because, if one of them is hurt, then the family will pull their money out of the bank, and the town will undoubtedly go bankrupt. After hearing that, the townspeople backed down. This culmination of success and perseverance over the decades is exactly what inspires Mr. Staples to go out and do what he does for the Sherman Park community and Milwaukee. He summed up his pride and honor for his family’s rich history when he was asked to state his name in the interview: “I am the third son of George Staples, who was the son of Jim Staples, who was the son of William Staples.”
He ended the interview with this: “If I die tomorrow, I lived a happy life...I have no complaints; I can’t think of any complaints.” Mr. Staples is a shining example of the joy one finds in helping the community and its younger generations.