Since July 2005, the word has spread fast about Michael's tragic accident and the subsequent outpouring of support from Michael's family and friends. It's our goal to tell Michael's story to as many people as possible. We can always use more friends.

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Scholarship ensures man’s legacy lives on
Posted 11/4/05, The Hawk Eye, by Craig T. Neises

DONNELLSON — A summer storm robbed Michael Burke’s family and friends of his love and companionship. His spirit, though, lives on.

In the memories of those who knew him. And in a foundation that has been established at the Central Lee High School graduate and former Lee County resident’s alma mater. The Michael Burke Foundation will provide scholarships for Central Lee graduates who emulate the qualities people saw in the 27-year-old’s make-the-most-out-it approach to life.

“Michael was a really outgoing person,” said his mother, Bette Burke of rural Donnellson. “I don’t think he ever met a stranger.” “He enjoyed whatever he did,” added Tom Burke, Michael’s dad.

The foundation was established this summer after the 27-year-old died in a camping mishap on July 25, the first night of the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, in the northwest Iowa town of Sheldon.

Beginning with the class of 2006, a scholarship will be presented to a Central Lee graduate who achieves a grade-point average of 3.5 or better on a 4.0 scale, is outgoing, social an involved in a variety of activities and embody Michael’s qualities of being energetic, good-natured and with a positive outlook on life, and who plans to attend the University of Iowa. The amount of the award has yet to be determined, Bette Burke said.

A graduate of Central Lee High School and valedictorian of the class of 1996, Michael went on to the University of Iowa and majored in industrial engineering.

Upon graduating in 2001, he was hired by Accenture, a consulting firm that emerged from the post-Enron collapse of Arthur Andersen. Living first in Chicago and then in New York after being transferred there in August 2004, Michael traveled the country for Accenture, and even spent time in the Filipino capital city, Manila, where he learned to scuba dive. A true renaissance man, he enjoyed golfing, singing, skiing and snowboarding, helping out with weekend Habitat for Humanities projects in Chicago and New York and rooting for his beloved Hawkeyes and St. Louis Cardinals.

In high school and college, Burke was involved in the performing arts, including show choir and school plays in high school, and at Iowa, a student play production and membership in the Newman Singers.

“He loved being up in front of an audience,” his mother said.

Many of his fellow singers from the U of I touring group came from all over the country to sing at Michael’s funeral. On what was his fourth RAGBRAI this year, Burke never actually got a chance to get on his bike. That first day of the week-long Missouri River to Mississippi River trek, he drove the support vehicle while his two companions — friends from college with whom Burke had riden RAGBRAI three other times — pedaled their way to Sheldon. In town, they found a camp site on someone’s lawn and were outside when a sudden storm blew up. Bette Burke said they retreated to the protection of their tent and were lying on their sleeping bags, Michael in the middle, when a tree limb about 2 feet in diameter came crashing down.

While his tentmates escaped without a scratch, Michael was killed instantly, just before 1 a.m. on Monday, July 25. Within the hour, at 1:34 a.m., the phone rang at the Burke home in rural Donnellson.

For Bette Burke, a surgical nurse at Fort Madison Community Hospital, the late-night call didn’t spark any feeling of dread. Such calls weren’t uncommon, and even though she wasn’t on-call that night, she suspected it was the hospital calling by mistake. But this time, on the opposite end of the line, was a woman who identified herself as the coroner in Sheldon.

With everything he did and all the people he encountered in his personal and working life, Michael’s parents believe that their son, at just 27, “touched a lot more people than maybe the average 50-year-old,” his dad said. “It’s comforting to know there’s a whole lot of people out there who cared about him.”

Michael was the youngest of four children. His three older sisters, Stephanie, Angela and Jennifer, all live in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in Arizona.

Together, their parents said, the quartet of Central Lee grads had talked over the past two or three years about doing something to establish a fund tot help students from their alma mater reach college.

It was not a distant consideration to be acted on many years from now, their dad said, but something they wanted to do sooner than later.

Michael’s untimely death, however, made it sooner than anyone expected.

“It’s kind of like keeping him alive to us a little bit,” Bette Burke said of the scholarship effort, “keeping him in people’s minds and remembering all the good qualities about him.”

“His legacy will be that his life meant something and is still meaning good, positive things for people,” Tom Burke added.

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