It's pretty easy to see how involved Mike Thiery is with the community. For one, he's involved in several organizations throughout Forsyth County, and two, his distinctive big, white beard and knack for colorful outfits can make him tough to miss.
Thiery was recently one of four winners of Forsyth County News's Neighborhood Heroes contest, where members of the community nominated local residents who have made a difference for others during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Thiery, a school bus driver for Forsyth County Schools who was also recently chosen as employee of the month, actually received a pair of submissions for his actions during the pandemic -- one for helping Marie's Italian Deli serve more than 1,650 sack lunches to The Place of Forsyth County and for visiting and stopping by to sing “God Bless America” with some of the Whitlow Elementary School students on his bus route.
“I can't say how much I appreciate it,” Thiery said of being chosen for the award. “It was awesome, totally awesome to receive the award, and it does not hurt to step up to the plate and volunteer wherever people can do it.”
Along with other activities like singing in a choir and serving as a softball umpire for more than 20 years, Thiery has been Santa Claus in his neighborhood.
In recent years, he's begun branching out to be Santa in other areas, such as for a local Cub Scout group made up of kids with autism.
Thiery said his favorite Santa moment involved one of the Scouts who was sure he would be on the naughty list because he didn't like being told what to do.
“I looked at my right hand, and I told him, 'I've got good news,” Thiery recalled. “I said, 'There's nobody in this room that's on the naughty list,' and he started tearing up a little bit. I said, 'Now, let me look at my nice list.' I looked at my left and said, 'Now ... this is my nice list... I've got great news, you're on my nice list, and to top it off, you're at the top of the list.”
Thiery said not only did he get “the biggest hug” from the boy, his mom later reached out to let him know that for the first time, he had made the honor roll at his school.
When it comes to serving others, Thiery said it was a value instilled in him early by his family, where he was the 11th of 12 kids.
“I would say it's from my upbringing, from my parents all the way down to my relatives, brothers and sisters,” Thiery said. “And it's just when there's a need, there are so many people that, they want to do something, they just don't know what to do. I sat here and thought about it and said, 'I've got to help. I've got to do something.'”