“Don’t ever take the smallest things in life for granted. I am very lucky to be alive, and it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to give back.”
Michael Rathke was born in Montreal and grew up in Brampton in the 1980s. He has lived in Aurora since 1996 with his wife and two beautiful daughters. As a young man, Mike had a dream. At seventeen, his goal was to open his own boutique within five to ten years, so he went to college and studied retail management. Unfortunately the next year he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. After chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and seven major surgeries, at the age of nineteen, Mike was in rough shape and fortunate to be alive. Eight years of intense speech, balance, memory, and numerous other therapies eventually paved his way to recovery. During that long and challenging period, Mike married and soon after, he and his wife welcomed their first baby girl.
“The best part of that terrible decade of illness and unemployment was becoming a Mr. Mom.”
Then, following the arrival of their second daughter and gaining some much needed strength, Mike applied for a part-time job. Within months though, he wanted to go back to work on a full time basis. So in 2002, after being employed at a local store for almost five years, he started a small consulting business on the side called Mr. Wardrobe. Five years later he got the itch to venture out on his own. With the encouragement of family, friends, and clients, he believed it was time to pursue the dream that still simmered within. He called his neurologist and asked if he could make an appointment to see him and schedule an MRI. The MRI showed no changes.
“The doctors thought I was crazy, but gave me the thumbs up.”
Twenty-two years later, Mike went for the dream he had held on to since his teens. In November 2007, he opened up his first store (M.R. Wardrobe) in Newmarket. In 2013, he transferred the boutique, now called MR Menswear, to Aurora. To date, he has been in the men’s wear retail business for almost thirty-five years.
Before his brain tumour, Mike was quite athletic, but the left side of the body had been adversely affected by the multiple surgeries he’d undergone, compromising his coordination. In spite of this, in 2015, Mike was invited by Steve Hinder to participate in the Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for Easter Seals, to benefit children with physical disabilities. Local stars were paired with professional dancers from Artistica Ballroom Dance Studio to compete for the Best Dance Couple title. Mike thought that all he would be required to do was to sponsor the boys and dress them, not realizing he was going to be expected to dance. Even though it was very difficult, Mike accepted the challenge, tackled this time-consuming and ultimately rewarding undertaking, and left his instructors and those he danced with awe-inspired.
“It meant a lot to me to accomplish something like that!”
Mike’s portrait was taken at Southlake Hospital Cancer Centre, which is very significant because he chose to make Southlake his first give-back experience and has donated to the hospital since 2002. Although Mike was not treated there, he knows the value of having a cancer centre closer to Aurora. Contributing in this way is especially important to him because he has seen how far treatment for cancer patients has come over the last thirty years. Being invited to the grand opening of the cancer center in 2010 was a meaningful and special event in his life.
Mike has donated gifts and run fundraisers at his store, and hosted ladies’ nights to raise funds and awareness for Southlake’s Breast Cancer Division. Although Mike has donated time and money to the Women’s Centre, and supported several local sports teams and other causes in the past, the focus of his philanthropy remains The Breast Cancer Division and the Cancer Centre, both of which are close to his heart as a cancer survivor. The York Region Multiple Sclerosis Society is another cause that matters to Mike as well.
Our community is honoured to have someone of Mike’s mindset and vision, with the ability to see beyond the demands of his world, and the will to make a difference in ours.