MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Back in 1977, Saturday Night Fever was on the big screen, Dave Moore was delivering the news on the little one and a young meteorologist named Mike Fairbourne was driving cross-country from Oregon, with his wife Peggy, and four young kids in the car.
The journey included a white knuckle ride through a mountain snowstorm, and an alarming discovery by the time they got to the Twin Cities. All four kids came down with chicken pox.
“So the first person we met when we came to Minnesota,” said Peggy, “was our new pharmacist.”
He was the new addition to the journalistic giant. Back in those days, Dave was on the desk, and CBS was full of ‘CCO alums. You’d think it would be daunting.
“I don’t think I was so concerned with that,” said Mike. “I heard of WCCO, but I didn’t realize what a giant it was in the journalism sense until I got here. And I was just coming here because it was challenging and exciting to open your own weather station and build it the way you want it.”
Through the years, Mike would find and develop some of the best weather technology, a far cry from his first days at ‘CCO, when he was still just standing in front of maps on a wall, talking about the weather with a teacher’s pointer.
“That was the latest technology we had,” said Mike.
“The pointer gave you authority,” joked Peggy.
Humor aside, Mike was the station’s first certified meteorologist, which was a big deal back then. But Mike, and his tools, kept us safe through so many severe storms.
“I’ve taken it as more than just a blog on a screen,” Mike said, explaining the way he looks at severe weather coverage. “I mean, I look at that and I know there’s somebody there going through some bad times.”
“He’s very protective of the public,” Peggy added. “It didn’t matter what we were doing at home, if he knew it wasn’t his assignment that night, but there was a storm, it didn’t matter. He was out of here, because he really owned that sense of community.”
His kids certainly understood that importance, as well. No matter how inconvenient.
“It did kind of hijack our lives at times,” said his daughter Jen. “When we were in the middle of having fun, when severe weather hit, it was his responsibility to go in and cover that.”
Time on TV meant time away from the family, which grew from four to seven in Minnesota. And since traditional family holidays had to be sandwiched around our newscasts, they got creative.
“We don’t have a whole lot of Irish in our blood,” said his son Steve, “but my parents really got into St. Patrick’s Day. So my dad would turn everything green.”
“Green chocolate chip cookies for breakfast,” remembered Mike, “and green scrambled eggs. We mixed food coloring in with the mustard to turn it green for their baloney sandwiches, too.”
“Green mustard in my pastrami sandwiches,” recalled Jen, “and green tuna fish. It was terrible, actually, I don’t want to remember that.”
Yes, Mike’s got a sneaky sense of humor, which may explain the family’s summertime trips to Idaho to visit grandma and grandpa, with all nine of them crammed into an old Buick Estate Wagon.
“It was mayhem in the back,” said Steve, “and the front seat was just driving. And the kids in the back were throwing stuff and writing on the windows.”
“Sometimes we’d drive it in 24 hours,” said Mike. “Then we decided we would break it up into three one-day trips, but that was more painful.”
Still, the kids have nothing but fond memories about growing up in such a big family, and nothing but admiration for their father.
“He’s a quiet hero to a lot of people,” said Jen.
“He’s bigger in real life than he is on the screen,” added Steve. “He’s better in person than he is on TV.”
And if you want actions to prove those words, there are plenty.
Don Shelby introduced us to Operation Smile, but Mike was already on the board. In fact, it was the first of many charities that Peggy got him to support.
Over the years, Mike and Peggy have gone on missions to Mexico, Africa and South America. And they helped form a new organization, Children’s Surgery International, to reach more kids with more kinds of surgery.
In fact, Mike’s good at just about everything except looking for publicity. He has been a longtime church leader in his church, which has inspired many of the couple’s good works. They’ve helped refugees from the Hmong and Karen communities. And Mike is involved in the Jeffers Foundation, which created FamiliesOutdoors.org.
They’ve even used their backyard garden, and its gorgeous grounds, to teach kids about the outdoors. Peggy took courses to become a master gardener, and Mike is almost as good.
And one more secret. Out straight-laced weatherman used to race street rods, and still does all the work on his own cars.
“I guess I’ve always had the dream in the back of my mind that I would someday have a street rod again,” he said, “but seven kids change your mind about a lot of things.”
Instead, the Fairbournes will spend Mike’s retirement a bit more practically — and now that you know more about the man — predictably. They’ve applied to go on a Mormon Mission, hoping to focus on humanitarianism.
“We don’t know what we’ll be doing,” he said. “We don’t know where we will be going, and we don’t know exactly how long we will be there, but we hope we will continue to do the work that we love, and that is by helping some people that need some help that we can provide.”
WCCO-TV’s Chris Shaffer Reports
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