Mike Painter is Missoula’s outstanding neighborhood volunteer of 2019, and his legion of friends and neighbors are speechless.

“This is a little awkward,” said Katie LaPointe, a member of the Rose Park Neighborhood Council’s leadership team. “At our neighborhood council meetings, Mike does all the talking, so clearly I’m at a loss for words.”

The truth, though, LaPointe said amid the laughter at Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting, is that Painter – a former city fire chief – is the Rose Park neighborhood’s “rock.”

“He’s our compass,” she said. “We would be a very, very lost neighborhood without you in it, Mr. Painter.”

“Mike is the most kind, generous, honorable and trustworthy man of character and sincerity,” said Julie Devlin, another member of the Rose Park leadership team. “We are at our best when he’s around because we don’t want to let ourselves or Mike down.”

Presented by the mayor, City Council and Community Forum for each of the past 15 years, the outstanding volunteer award honors a Missoula resident “who has made significant positive neighborhood contributions through their volunteer efforts,” said Jane Kelly, Missoula’s neighborhood coordinator.

Painter fits that bill and more.

He’s a graduate of Sentinel High School, Missoula College of Technology and the University of Montana. Painter started his career with the Missoula Fire Department in 1980, becoming assistant chief in 2004 and then chief in 2009.

Now, he’s retired – or as the name tag he wears to most meetings and events says, “Unemployed but enthusiastic.”

City Councilwoman Gwen Jones credited Painter with giving her a solid introduction to city government when she first got involved in the Rose Park neighborhood council.

“He’s an institution,” she said.

“And he has no ego,” Jones said. If it’s a contentious issue with a room full of people demanding answers, Painter is there to help. But he's also there when a neighbor needs help shoveling their driveway.

“No matter how big or small the issue, Mike is there,” Jones said. “He cares greatly about this community – and, Mike, we care greatly about you.”

True to form, Painter told the two-dozen or so friends and family at Monday night’s announcement that he’s “not a big fan of personal accolades,” but that he did appreciate the many kind words.

Both his upbringing in the fire service and the instruction he received from his wife, son and daughter taught him this, Painter said: “We are in this mess together, and our collective power is infinitely better than our own individual abilities.”

Painter said he’s “a huge fan of Missoula and of Missoula’s neighborhood councils. There’s value in promoting them and how they tend to lead to greater … citizenship for all of us.”

“There are so many opportunities in Missoula to get involved in working to make our little town better,” he said. “The moral of the story is there are real problems facing us, but our strength is in working together toward a solution to those problems.”