HOUGHTON - In a legal career of more than 30 years, including 20 years as Houghton County Probate Court judge, John Mikkola gained a reputation for fairness and integrity both on the bench and off.
Mikkola, of Hancock, died of cancer at his winter home in Alabama on Saturday. He was 69.
After beginning his legal career with Wisti & Jaaskelainen in Hancock, he opened a practice with fellow lawyer Don Hiltunen.
Houghton County Circuit Court Judge Charles Goodman first got to know him during that time, as part of a group of lawyers who could give no quarter during court but have a friendly dinner later that night.
"He was a terrific lawyer, he was a wonderful judge, but more important, he was a really good man," he said. "John was just a credit to the bar, the bench - just a good person. And he'll be missed."
In 1983, Mikkola became Houghton County's probate judge, a post he held until retiring in 2003. He became the county's second-longest-serving probate court judge, a point of pride for him, Goodman said.
Mikkola was born in Hancock on June 16, 1944. After graduating from Dollar Bay High School, Ferris State College and Detroit College of Law.
He married his high school sweetheart, Mary Lee, in 1967; they remained married until his death. They lived in Houghton, where they raised their two children, until moving to Hancock when Mikkola retired.
Probate Court Judge Fraser Strome was assistant prosecutor for much of Mikkola's tenure, and remembers Mikkola as an "exceptional legal mind."
"Sometimes I'll be in a tough situation when I'm deciding a case, and I'll remember how Judge Mikkola handled the situation," he said. "A lot of those principles and the way he handled himself were instilled in me early in my career, and I'm thankful I have that to rely on today."
Impeccable in his ethics, Mikkola didn't socialize with Strome until after he retired. But once he retired, Mikkola was able to spend time at his other home in Alabama, where he hosted Strome, an Alabama native, and his family.
"He was just a regular guy," Strome said. "He was personable, wonderful with children, and you could see how he and his wife just had a special relationship."
In his spare time, Mikkola enjoyed hobbies such as hunting, fishing, boating and traveling, including many trips to see children and grandchildren. He was also a lifelong hockey fan, fondly recalling his national championship with the Dollar Bay Veterans of Foreign Wars junior hockey team.
Goodman said he couldn't single out any particular stories about Mikkola, calling him "pretty much the whole package."
"We lost a real stalwart of the practice in John," he said. "Very, very, wonderful guy. I'll miss him."