EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — Mike Meyer recalls afternoons as a teenager driving through East Dubuque picking up food orders and hopping in and out of trucks while helping his stepdad prepare deliveries for a local food pantry.
It wasn’t something he ever thought twice about, Meyer said. Giving back and helping others in need is just something he did and enjoyed.
“I think it’s just my personality,” he said. “My mom was a single school teacher for a lot of years. We were very poor. I was just appreciative of everything we had.”
Meyer, 44, the owner of The Other Side in East Dubuque, moved to the city in the summer of 1984. Since opening the bar in 2000, he has used his role as a business owner to get to know residents and the city and find ways to make a difference.
Years ago, Meyer joined East Dubuque Lions Club, and he formerly served as its vice president. He was also a part of the East Dubuque Business & Tourism Council.
Using both roles, Meyer was able to help other residents begin an annual fireworks show in the city.
“East Dubuque had never had fireworks, and it was just something we thought we should do,” he said.
Delbert Belken, an East Dubuque City Council member, said he has known Meyer since Meyer was about 10. As he grew up, Belken said, Meyer became more and more involved with the city and has made a constant effort to better his hometown.
“He is very involved,” Belken said. “He is a big promoter for the downtown area. He cares a lot about it, and he does a lot of work behind the scenes that people don’t know he’s doing. That’s the way Mike is.”
Meyer helped launch Cruisin’ Thursdays car shows in East Dubuque in 2017 when Gary’s Graffiti Nights moved to Dubuque. He also helped kick-start the city’s popular Wing Fest more than a decade and a half ago.
Meyer said the events, along with others he puts together, help raise about $10,000 for local organizations each year.
“It’s just good for the community,” he said. “It makes everybody feel good, and I just think more people need to do that.”
After the Easter egg hunt in East Dubuque this year was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Meyer rounded up about 10 groups of volunteers to go out at 5 a.m. on Easter Sunday and hide eggs outside homes. They gave eggs to 176 kids in the area.
Meyer said he believes the pandemic has helped people stop and think about the importance of helping others.
“I think the whole community stopped for a bit and started to appreciate the little things in life,” he said. “I think there was a feel-good moment. There is definitely some good that has come from it all.”
Ben Andersen, the vice president and treasurer of East Dubuque Lions Club, said Meyer went to high school with his son, and since then, he has gotten to know Meyer from his years of serving with the Lions Club.
“Mike is a person that cares and is willing to go that extra mile to make things better for everyone,” he said. “That is what Mike’s about — generating the image for our town and his business and himself that is very positive. He’s just a good overall promoter.”
Recently, Meyer posted on Facebook that his restaurant would be delivering 50 meals to people in need, but the post garnered so much attention and support that his business received donations to give out 300 meals to residents in the area.
“People saw what we were doing, and wanted to give back,” he said.
When Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all restaurants and bars to close March 17 to limit the spread of COVID-19, Meyer said he and his staff had little time to figure out what to do with all the food his restaurant already had stocked.
“We took all our food and went to Dubuque Rescue Mission,” he said. “That was fun.”
Rick Mihm, the executive director of the mission, said the donation was incredible. With the swift shutdowns for businesses and organizations across the tri-state area, the organization was not sure how it would continue to prepare meals for its residents.
“Any time we get a meal covered, it saves us money, and it allows the residents to enjoy something extra,” Mihm said. “Especially at that time when we didn’t know hardly anything about COVID, it was a real generous response and immediate one to people in need.”
Meyer said the experience was not only positive for him, but it also served as a learning experience for the high school students who went with. It’s something he hopes will stick with them.
“I don’t think people think there is this need in Dubuque, Iowa,” Meyer said. “I love to be able to help out, and I love when I am able to teach young people to help out. It just makes you feel good.”