He fixes broken desks. He changes light bulbs. He shovels snow.
And he quietly paints showpieces that grace the walls of Oak Creek schools. Hundreds of students and staff see his artwork every day, but few know about the man behind the art.
Mike Steil, an Oak Creek graduate and a custodian for the Oak Creek–Franklin Joint School District for fifteen years, is a self-taught artist who has used his talent to paint murals throughout the district. Although a few paintings at both East and West Middle Schools have fallen victim to renovations, Steil's work is still housed in various schools in the area.
Edgewood Elementary showcases the variety in Steil’s subject matter. He has created a Dr. Suess painting by the library, a Jackie Robinson portrait in a hallway, and a palm tree and monkey scene in a classroom.
"When kids see me painting, they think it is mysterious," explains Steil. "I tell them that they can do this, too." Steil even lets students paint a little in each of his murals.
More recently, Steil has been working on a mural of a knight in the teachers’ lounge at Oak Creek High School. He is thrilled to work on this project: "This is something special I can do for the school. It is an honor to be asked."
For Steil, passion for art runs in the family. His great aunt, Caroline Levandowski, taught at the Cudahy Vocational School in the 1960s and became known for her oil paintings. Steil's son, Michael, a 2007 graduate of Oak Creek High School, also has a talent for drawing.
Steil’s enthusiasm for art started young. "I saw another student who could draw the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. I wanted to do that, too," he remembers. "From then on, it was drawing for me."
The challenge of new projects motivates Steil to continue painting. "It's like putting a puzzle together," he says. "When you've finished something, you look at it and think, 'That’s cool.'" The students and staff who view Steil's murals agree that the murals are indeed pretty cool.