Editor’s note: For the last month, the Mohave Valley Daily News has published a weekly profile of a veteran who chose to locate in the Tri-state to operate a business. In this week’s
Friday/Saturday edition of the Daily News, more local veterans will be profiled in a special section in celebration of the Independence Day holiday.
BULLHEAD CITY — A lot of people in Bullhead City know Mike Lueck as either the pizza guy or the real estate guy, but years ago he was Cpl. Lueck of the United States Marine Corps.
Lueck, the owner/broker of Desert Time Realty, grew up in the small Minnesota city of Anoka. After graduation, he was enjoying life when he realized that he needed to get a plan together.
“I was having too much fun being a kid then and figured college wasn’t a good idea,” said Lueck. “I decided that the military was the better idea.”
Military was in his blood. Lueck’s grandfathers both served in World War II (one in the Army and one in the Marines) as well as his father (Army), and two cousins (Army). Lueck’s mother begged him to join the Army, but he was set on something else.
“My poor mother begged me not to join the Marines,” Lueck said. “She said ‘those guys are crazy.’ I did it anyway. When I graduated boot camp, she said ‘that’s the best thing you ever did.’ Things change a lot in three months of boot camp.”
Five days before Christmas of 1993, Lueck was off to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. After his three months there, he was went Marine combat training at Camp Pendleton for 30 days and then to the Army’s Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, for his military occupational specialty chooling.
“When I went in, I wanted a guaranteed administrative job,” said Lueck. “So they set me up as 0100 which is all administrative. I didn’t have any idea until I graduated boot camp that I was going to be a postal clerk. Just that it would be in admin. While I was in the Marine Corps, it was the second smallest MOS in the Marine Corps. Only smaller was the weather guys. Only about 380 people in the whole Marine Corps when I was in.”
Lueck chose admin because he wanted to have a career when he came out, and he figured “learning how to shoot guns wasn’t going to be much of a career choice when I got out of the Marines.”
After his MOS school was completed, he headed off to Okinawa, Japan. He was stationed at Camp Hansen, and in a very short time he was surprised to be put in charge of the base post office.
“I was there for three weeks, and they put me in charge of the whole post office as an E-3,” said Lueck. “It’s supposed to be an E-7 billet. I had 10 guys working for me and had to live with them at night. You learn how to deal with them quickly. You grow up very fast.”
In the military overseas, military personnel run their own post offices. In the U.S., mostly civilians run the post office at military installations, with some
military personnel sprinkled in. According to Lueck, that’s why the MOS is so small. But how does an E-3 end up in charge of 10 men?
“They were all E-2s or E-3s,” said Lueck. ‘We were all brand new, but I was the senior E-3. For some reason, the commanding officer liked me and said, ‘You’re in charge.’ Fortunately, I had to learn to deal with men very quickly.”
It was something that Lueck would use the rest of his career in the military as well as his time in civilian life. The leadership position also came with a promotion and he was made a corporal just 14 months into his military career.
After a year in Okinawa, Lueck was brought back to the United States and finished his four-year enlistment at Twentynine Palms, California.
“I requested it,” said Lueck. “My parents at the time lived in Phoenix and my brother lived in Vegas. I figured I could get to either one of those pretty quickly. I liked being there. They say Bullhead is hot, but Twentynine Palms is hotter. I had a good time there. I enjoyed it.”
As a young Marine, Lueck was single entering the Marine Corps and had made a promise to himself that he would stay that way for his whole enlistment.
“I didn’t think it would be fair to a wife and kids to be moving around like that,” Lueck explained. “I didn’t get married while I was in. Living the single Marine life.”
In late 1997, Lueck separated from the Marine Corps and moved to Phoenix to take a job at the First Health Insurance Company as office services manager. He oversaw the mail room as well as purchasing supplies. With a monthly budget of “a couple million,” he was responsible for ordering supplies for the roughly 1,000 employees in the building.
“We would go through pallets and pallets of paper,” said Lueck. “Insurance companies love paperwork.”
But before he could get started with his new career, he had to go through orientation. That’s where he met his future wife, Ila.
“We went through orientation together,” said Lueck. “We both started on the same day.”
He said he had considered applying for the U.S. Postal Service when he got out, but after looking how long it would take to get into it and the opportunities he had with Corporate America, he never seriously considered going that route.
Mike and Ila were married and when they were expecting their first child, Lueck decided to take a part-time job delivering pizzas to earn some extra money.
“I realized quickly that I made more money delivering pizzas part time than I did working for Corporate America,” said Lueck.
Lueck left First Health and worked strictly at the pizza place. This allowed his wife, who made more than he did, to go back to work and someone would always be home for the baby.
Over the course of time, Papa John’s kept trying to recruit Lueck to manage for them. He finally gave in and did that, choosing to run a store in the Phoenix area. He was named Rookie Manager of the Year. When they opened another store in Phoenix, company officials asked him to run that one and was named Manager of the Year.
“I was doing very well at it,” said Lueck. “So, four to five years into it I decided to be a franchisee. That’s when we moved to Bullhead City and I opened the Papa John’s here.”
In 2012, Lueck got into real estate. The economy was struggling, and so was the store. He was worried about having all his eggs in one basket and always had an interest in real estate.
“I got lucky and got hired by the Ristow Group,” said Lueck. “They were doing a bunch of foreclosures here and I just started cranking out properties. My first year I won Rookie of the Year. My second year I won Realtor of the Year.”
With his success in real estate, he needed someone to run his Papa John’s, so he called Jon Connaughty and asked him to manage the store for him. Lueck and Connaughty have had a long relationship, since Jon walked into Mike’s store at just 18 years old.
“Jon walks into my store as a skinny little 18-year-old,” explained Lueck. “He asked if we were looking for employees. I said, ‘You’re from Minnesota, aren’t you?’ He said ‘yeah’ and I said, ‘You’re hired.’ He said ‘What’? I said you’re from Minnesota. We’ve got good work ethics in Minnesota. You’re hired.”
Three years ago, Lueck sold the store on Highway 95 to Connaughty and opened Desert Time Realty.
Since then, Lueck has served as the president of the Board of Realtors in 2016, was on the Bullhead City Elementary School District board for four years including two as president; and is heavily involved with the Mohave County Shriners Club and the Masons, having served as the president of the Shrine Club in 2008 and the treasurer the past six years.
The accomplishments are plenty, but had he not made that decision to join the Marine Corps, he may not have been able to do what he has done.
“Before I went in the Marine Corps, I was kind of a spoiled kid,” said Lueck. “I didn’t have a lot of direction in life. I just was partying and having fun with my friends. Getting away with things. I knew if I stayed there it just wouldn’t lead to anything good.
“I thought the Marine Corps would at least give me some discipline, some focus and it did. It taught me how to lead men more than anything. Be a leader. I had no idea how to lead anybody before that. I had guys from all over the country and with all different backgrounds under me. You learn how to get along with them and talk to them to get things done.”
Mike and Ila have been married 21 years now, have two children, a grandchild and another on the way. Their daughter has graduated college and has been hired as a teacher in Phoenix and their son lives here.
After serving in the Marine Corps, worked in pizza shops for 15 years and now real estate for the last eight, he said he is ready to slow down a bit.
“A little more fun in life and not work myself to death,” said Lueck. “I’m ready to just enjoy my family and my life.”