MENTONE — Growing up in Mentone, Mike Yazel has felt a pull to art since he first started drawing. He enjoys trying multiple different mediums for his artwork including watercolor, oil, glass blowing, blacksmithing and wood carving. “I’ve been doing wood carving since I got a pocket knife,” he admitted.
After a tornado destroyed the school in Talma, Yazel attended and graduated from Tippecanoe Valley High School. After high school, he got a job working for the yellow pages in Warsaw doing artwork. However, as the artwork in the yellow pages began to decline, he decided to begin his life as an entrepreneur. “After that I went out on my own,” he explained.
Selling art and wood carvings at art shows became Yazel’s job. He would even do quick 10 minute portraits at the shows. As his skills and interest in woodworking increased, he realized it was difficult to find the tools he needed for his craft. This prompted him to begin blacksmithing. “I just set up a blacksmith shop and made what I couldn’t find,” he described.
Yazel’s blacksmithing led to a job making medical tools and surgical instruments for the orthopedic industry. As his medical tool supply business grew, access to the internet eventually became a necessity. Since the internet had not yet come to Mentone, Yazel chose to solve the problem by starting his own ISP business as well. As the orthopedic industry grew, he eventually sold his business. His ISP business branched out to around 600 customers before he sold it to Rochester Telephone Company.
After that, he returned to his favorite type of job — working for himself. His wide variety of skills in different art mediums comes from a mixture of pure talent and self-teaching. “With the internet, you can teach yourself how to do just about anything these days,” he recounted. The one art class he took was in glass blowing which he put to the test years later and has now also learned to do torch work with glass for smaller projects.
Currently, he focuses on engraving, blacksmithing and art in his daily life. He prefers to do his engraving in the morning and save the blacksmithing and art for the afternoon. Yazel will also occasionally teach watercolor painting or woodworking classes.
He also shows off his skills in living history shows, such as the Gathering at Five Medals in Goshen, where he demonstrates blacksmithing and chair building.
As a member of Mentone’s volunteer fire department for 41 years, he now holds the distinguished title of fire chief. The department is currently in its fourth location, moving in 2005, in order to provide the necessary space for expansion. While serving Kosciusko County and parts of Fulton County on the fire department, he also has been working with a committee exploring what will be needed to upgrade the county-wide communication system for first responders.
As the Mentone Egg Festival celebrated hometown heroes, Yazel was chosen as this year’s parade marshal. While he typically prefers to work in the background with the fire department directing traffic and preparing for its annual sausage and pancake breakfast, this year he got to ride in the front of the parade.
As a boy, Yazel enjoyed restoring old sports cars with his father. This love has followed him into adulthood as he is currently working on restoring a 1975 911 purple Porsche.
He works on these many projects alongside his wife, June, who teaches at Tippecanoe Valley High School. The penchant for art was passed down to their son, Ethan, who studied animation and has worked with big names like Nickelodeon and Netflix. Their daughter, Isabelle, currently resides in Hawaii where she is studying pre-med.