Hard work and helping others have always been a part of Mike Summey’s life.
From his humble beginnings in a small coal-mining town in West Virginia to amassing a 500-property real estate portfolio throughout the Southeast, Summey focused on his desire, discipline and dedication to become the success that he is today.
When he was 21, Summey was laid off from his Northrop defense plant job. Instead of filing for unemployment or looking for another factory job, he decided to go out on his own and start a sign company and vowed to never work for someone else again.
“I invested my $300 severance pay in an old van and started a small sign shop on my own,” Summey said. “From Day 1, I made sure to put money back into my business. It was a struggle for sure, but I was able to make it grow.”
Three decades later, that local sign shop in the back of a van was a multimillion dollar billboard company with offices in two states. Although the business was a great success, Summey’s crowning achievement was his invention of the single pole billboard that is still used throughout the world today. Because Summey was always a firm believer in helping others, he shared his single-pole design with his competitors and never collected any royalties from his invention.
Summey sold his billboard company in 1997 and “functionally retired” to spend his time with his family and handle his real estate portfolio.
In 1999, Summey took his sons, Jason and Matt, on a college tour that included a stop at Florida State, where they met Coach Bobby Bowden for the first time.
“We made the trip down to Tallahassee and Coach Bowden could not have been a nicer gentleman to my boys. He treated them like gold,” Summey said. “Jason had always been a Florida State fan, and that trip made his mind up that FSU was the school for him.”
It was Jason’s passion for FSU that helped Summey see the light about becoming a Florida State fan and eventually a Seminole Booster.
“I was actually a big Clemson fan back in the ‘80s,” Summey said. “I was friends with head coach Danny Ford and they had just won their first national title and I put up some billboards for them.
“But now that Jason comes to Florida State and the Seminoles are doing dynamite in football he told me ‘Dad, you either need to change allegiances or get a new son.’ ”
Although his son “strong-armed” him into becoming an FSU supporter, Summey eventually got involved with Seminoles Boosters and became a season ticket holder in 2001.
“We started coming down to all of the home games and our fondness for the university just grew and grew,” Summey said.
Even after Jason graduated from Florida State in 2003, Summey would fly his wife, Linda, and other family members back to Tallahassee to see all of the home football games.
When his sons had children of their own, the Summey family flights from Asheville to Tallahassee had to expand to two planes. Summey’s younger son, Matt, flies Apache helicopters in the Army, so he would fly the second plane.
As the Summey family grew in numbers (he now has five grandchildren), they became famous for their extraordinary tailgate parties behind the Psychology building next to Mike Long Track. Their tailgating area was shared with about eight other families and was affectionately known as “Seminole City.”
“Our parties were so legendary that we had our own D.J. who would play music and host a private radio talk show that other tailgate areas would tune into,” Summey said. “We were even selected as ‘Tailgate of the Year’ in 2013.”
As Summey got more involved with Seminole Boosters his tailgate parties transitioned to the Champions Club. He is currently a Platinum Chief and has 11 season tickets for whichever members of the Summey family will join him on the flight from North Carolina.
While Summey was managing his real estate investments in his “retirement,” he wanted to do more for the university that he fell in love with. In 2016, he donated a 12,000-square foot commercial property to Seminole Boosters.
Summey’s generosity didn’t stop with the donation of a major gift. He also helped Seminole Boosters secure a qualified appraisal and was instrumental in the liquidation of the property, which resulted in a net gift of $556,000 that will go toward scholarships and other commitments.
“I’ve always been one who tries to give back. It’s invigorating to know that you’ve helped a little bit for some of the success that is taking place at Florida State,” Summey said. “It’s great to see the success of Collegetown, the indoor practice facility, and the other investments that the Boosters have going.”
Whether as a Seminole Booster, a reserve Sheriff’s deputy in Buncombe County, or a volunteer pilot for Wounded Warriors, Mike Summey has spent a lifetime of working hard and helping others. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.