Sunday, November 9, 2003

New trustee: Viva Delhi Township!


Elvis rules in heart of West Side

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Mike Davis teaches religion classes at St. Ignatius School and works as an Elvis impersonator.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
MONFORT HEIGHTS - Mike Davis, in sleek black pants and his trademark Elvis-style pompadour and sideburns, walks into his last eighth-grade religion class of the day at St. Ignatius School. Students applaud.

"Thank you, thank you very much," he says.

A congratulatory cake is in the back corner. Helium balloons and posters cheer "Trustee Davis." The radio is tuned to WLW-AM.

After shushing his students and failing in his first attempts to get through, Davis is on the phone with the radio station.

The teacher talks about his surprise election to Delhi Township trustee. But it's his weekend job that has the station calling: Elvis impersonator at the Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun, Ind.

After a bit of cajoling from the station, Davis breaks into Elvis voice and song.

"Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire."

He's on the phone in the corner of the cement-block classroom.

"Got a whole lot of money that's ready to burn, so get those stakes up higher."

MIKE DAVIS
Age: 38
Family: Single
Resides in: Delhi Township
Job: Religion teacher, St. Ignatius School in Green Township; also an entertainer at Grand Victoria Casino
Education: Bachelor's degree, Thomas More College; he also studied for 5 years to be a priest at a pontifical college in Columbus.
Entertaining: Every Friday night at the Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun. Shows are at 8 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. In December, he will put on a big, Vegas-style revue show at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Tickets are still available.
WISDOM
The wisdom of a middle school religion teacher, in his own words:

• "Eighty-two percent of the questions I ask you can be answered with one four-letter word. What's that word? Love!"

• "I talk to so many people your age who say, 'I don't get anything out of church. Daaag.' But what we must ask them is, 'What do you put into church?'"

• "That's the worst thing you can learn in life - that if someone else is doing it, you can do it, too. That's an appeal to common belief. 'Just take a sip.' 'Just take a puff.' Don't tell me you eighth-graders haven't experienced something like that."

• Relaying the Biblical story of the prodigal son: "God celebrates you when you come back, when you say, 'You know, God, I haven't been the best.' "

(Quotes by Mike Davis during one recent class period teaching religion at St. Ignatius School)

The 38-year-old teacher is serenading Cincinnati.

"...And I'm just the devil with love to spare: VIVA LAS VEGAS! VIVA LAS VEGAS! Oh, we're rockin' here!"

Announcers join in. Students join in.

Mike Davis is having the time of his life.

Davis pulled off an improbable election victory last week. The first-time political candidate defeated three opponents for an open seat - including Kevin Rhodes, son of Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, and Ron Kruse, a former Delhi Township trustee.

Now Davis hopes to use his ability to listen and understand his audience; his ability, gleaned from years as a teacher, to put things in simple, understandable terms; his ability to be a showman - and do some good for his hometown.

"To get to Delhi you either have to get lost or really want to get there," Davis says. "I want to make people really want to come here."

People here say his energy, his humor and his ideas make Davis the person Delhi needs now.

(Voters also elected Al Duebber, a local automotive shop owner. Duebber beat Nicholas J. LaScalea, a trustee since two years after Elvis died - the real Elvis - in 1977.)

Davis, who calls Delhi "one of the best-kept secrets in Ohio," said he wants to take "Sisters' Hill," the patch of land along Delhi Pike near the Sisters of Charity complex, and turn it into a three-mile walking and biking trail. He wants Delhi to have a family fun center that's an entertainment destination all of Cincinnati can use. He wants to revitalize Delhi's business district.

His campaign was clever, fun, personal. He handed out Mike and Ike candies and had signs that read "I Like Mike." He tried to meet as many people as he could in the short campaign after Trustee Ann Langdon resigned to move to Colerain Township.

"I just wanted every person I saw to know there are more choices here," Davis says. "You had Ron Kruse, who is absolutely a pearl in this township, just a great guy, and Kevin Rhodes, a name everyone knows. But people felt they weren't being heard here. They have to buy who you are if they're going to vote for you. My message was sincere - first and foremost, you have a voice in Delhi government."

Davis' boss at St. Ignatius calls him a "religion teacher extraordinaire" and a great role model.

"Society doesn't promote civic involvement enough, but what better way to teach that to the kids," says Tim Reilly, St. Ignatius principal. "He's a youth advocate from day one. There needs to be a champion for that."

Students, who say they look forward to their daily dose of church history and church doctrine with Mr. Davis, say he's everyone's favorite teacher.

"You can tell him anything, and he won't tell anyone," says Matt King, 14, after a recent class period. "I know him better than any other teacher."

"He just listens to you," adds Jenna Huhn, 13. "And he makes religion easier to understand. He breaks it down to the present day and how it relates to us."

"Yeah, he tells us about life, not just religion," chimes in Shannon Grosheim, 14.

He teaches morality in a way that's real to his students.

"By eighth grade," he told his class recently, "the numbers show you have been pressured to take a drink, to smoke a cigarette, or to play kissy face." His class laughs. "You're being thrown this stuff every day."

Then, as he says a half-dozen times per class: "Can I get a WIT-ness?" The entire class responds, "Amen!"

He tries to make his students "stop your automatic pilot and really think."

"Being a religion teacher, the focus doesn't stick just to religion," he says. "This is real. And the kids take it with them. I help students unpack who their God may or may not be."

Davis tries to shield his students from his Elvis routine. But the kids know his hobby, and sometimes he bursts out with a Jimmy Stewart impression, or as an old lady, or John Wayne, just to keep the kids alert.

He stumbled into Elvis at age 21. Friends said he sounded like Elvis. He always enjoyed singing, and, soon after, was offered $50 to impersonate Elvis at a birthday party.

"Next thing I knew, I was in Colorado at the Blackhawk Casino," he says.

"But really, the Elvis thing is just icing on the cake to me," he says. "I just want to celebrate Delhi and do what I can for the community. That's the bottom line - what's better for Delhi."

E-mail rforgrave@enquirer.com




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