College honors Heinecken’s volunteerism
MIDDLEBURY — Mickey Heinecken of Middlebury was awarded a Bonnie and John McCardell Citizen’s Award by Middlebury College this year for his outstanding service to the community.
After coaching Middlebury College’s football team for 28 years, he founded the Vermont Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, co-chaired both the United Way of Addison County and the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) with his wife Carol, and spent countless hours volunteering for a wide range of other causes.
While he clearly appreciates the award, he’s also extremely humble.
“I think the McCardell Award is really … symbolic of the college’s understanding and shows how intertwined they are with the community. So, in that sense, the award is significant with the college recognizing the role that community members play in making our community stronger,” said Heinecken.
“But, it’s also an unfair thing,” he said. “When I look at what we’ve done … it pales compared to what some people in this community have done and what they continue to do. And many of them don’t receive recognition.
“It’s kind of like a kid on a football team winning an M.V.P. award,” he said. “Give me a break. There are 22 kids playing the game of football; there’s no most valuable player. But, we give it, and I think we get caught up in it.”
Despite his humble words, Heinecken has had a hugely positive impact on Addison County since he moved here in the early 1970’s.
Heinecken is a father of three, grandfather of four, and has been married to his wife Carol for 49 years. Not one to shy away from commitment, he has long given 110 percent of himself to whatever task he has taken on, especially athletics.
He attended the University of Delaware where he captained the football team and played baseball and lacrosse. After graduating, he stayed at Delaware and coached football from 1962 to 1972.
“That ten-year period was interrupted by a block of time in the service where I would like to say I helped defend the country, but I coached football when I was in the service too,” he said. “I actually coached in front of larger crowds in the service than I did anywhere else… coached kids from all over the states including kids from schools in the SEC and Big 10 (which have big Division One programs for football).”
While Heinecken held the assistant coach position at Delaware, he also acted as the head coach for the lacrosse team and the assistant coach for the basketball team.
After winning the national football championship for small schools with Delaware, his application for the Head Coach position for the Middlebury College football team was accepted.
“I’m convinced that I got the job here because when I was interviewed, I had my wife come up with me and I think she charmed the athletic director and made him think, ‘I’m not sure that he knows what’s going on, but she does, so we’ll make due with her,” he joked. “But, it was a dream come true to come up here.”
Heinecken enjoyed his 28 years coaching football at Middlebury College, but maybe not for the reasons one would think. When he talks about his years at Middlebury, it’s not the wins and records that he carries with him, but rather the formative experience for players that he remembers.
“The experience that the kid’s got from football meshed perfectly with the rest of the educational experiences they had here. But they were experiencing things that they couldn’t experience in the physics lab that were unique,” he said.
“I think one of my most enjoyable experiences is watching the careers of former players and having a sense that Middlebury athletics played a role in formulating who they are.”
The current Middlebury Athletic Director Erin Quinn was Heinecken’s former player and assistant coach at Middlebury College. Following in his coach’s footsteps, Quinn and his wife Pam are now the co-chairs of this year’s United Way campaign.
“Mickey is a man of impeccable character. This was his defining quality to me when he was my coach and when I coached with him, and his example was one of the primary reasons I went into coaching,” said Quinn. “He set an appropriately high standard for behavior and work ethic and modeled this for us.
“He doesn’t simply sign up for things, he always takes a leadership role, and sets the standard for hard work when he does so,” added Quinn.
After Heinecken retired from coaching, he founded the Vermont chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, an organization that promotes sportsmanship and raises money for scholarships and youth football programs.
Always deflecting praise, Heinecken said, “I’m the guy at the top of this thing, but we have some folks working in its wings that really make the organization go.”
As co-chairs of the United Way, he and Carol met their fundraising goal, which is quite a feat in itself. Currently, they’re co-chairing another fundraising effort for the MVAA and they’re three-fifths of the way toward reaching that $1 million goal.
But his efforts to make a difference haven’t always been local. Passionate about the 2008 presidential campaign, Heinecken left home with a small trailer for almost two months to campaign in New Hampshire for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
“There was a piece of volunteer work that he did that I was in awe of,” added Carol. “He lived in this little box in an old field in Northern New Hampshire for six to seven weeks,” said Carol, who has worked tirelessly with her husband on many of the Middlebury-area projects.
And while Heinecken already has a plate full of volunteer work, he’ll pile on extra helpings this summer when he lends a hand to Addison County Habitat for Humanity projects. He keeps on helping himself to more volunteerism because, simply, it feels good.
“Volunteerism, when it comes down to it, makes you feel good and particularly in a community like Middlebury,” he said. “So many people have been drawn to this area because they want to be a part of something larger than just themselves … and Middlebury represents that.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].