Turkish immigrant’s life a rags-to-riches story
By Jeff Manes For Sun-Times Media
Miray "Mike" Dalkilic wearing cowboy boots and holding a pistol used by the Ottoman Army during 19th century. | Jeff Manes/For Sun-Times Media
(Editor’s Note: The following story was published in the Post-Tribune earlier this year. It is being republished as part of Progress 2014, a salute to “Caring in our Communities.”)
“Deve bir pula, devebin pula.”
(A camel for a dime, a camel for 1,000 dimes.)
— Turkish proverb
The above proverb has been used to show the irony when a person could not afford something even when it was very cheap, but later can afford it when it’s 1,000 times more expensive.
Although Miray “Mike” Dalkilic was born the son of wealthy parents in Istanbul, Turkey, he struggled mightily while first married in this country. Through hard work and being the possessor of a brilliant mind, he has gone from ditch digger to successful entrepreneur.
Dalkilic, 76, is the founder-president of Midtech Hydraulics, Inc. in Cedar Lake. He lives in Crown Point with wife, Sandra, who worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 37 years. Today, she runs a thriving real estate company and shares office space with her husband.
The Dalkilics have raised a son and a daughter. Mehmet is a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, and Samantha owns Steeple Gallery in St. John.
“I came to this country when I was 17,” Dalkilic began.
Did you attend college in America?
“Yes, the University of Texas and eventually St. Edward’s University, both in Austin, Texas. St. Edward’s is the second oldest Catholic university in the United States.”
Are you Catholic?
Are you Muslim?
“No, I’m not a religious man. At St. Edward’s you had to be at least 32 years old. We were a class of 72. We had colonels who were flying B-52s; we had general managers of IBM. I graduated second in my class.”
“I was kicked out of history class at the University of Texas.”
“One of the slippers I had was broken, so I went to class barefooted. I was a pure, unadulterated Turkish hillbilly. The professor looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Dala, Dalka, Dalak... .’ He couldn’t pronounce my name. It took my wife 20 years to pronounce my name.”
Is Sandra a native Texan?
“Yes, her maiden name is Hitchcock. The professor asked why I was wasn’t wearing shoes. I told him, ‘Is broken.’ He said, ‘We will not accept that.’”
Tell me more.
“At first, I hung around with Turkish students. After a year, I started messing around with the Americans. I played piano in a bar. In 1958, a bald-headed Turk playing piano was very impressive to the ladies. It became a problem. I flunked out of school. But I had beautiful fun. Booze and women, it was wonderful.
“By luck, I met my wife. I was struggling; the immigration office was after me. I had what was called an F-Visa which was for students.”
“For about four months, I dug ditches for $1.25 an hour. Then, I cleaned (excrement) for 18 months on the night shift of a mental hospital. Finally, Sandy told me that I needed to go back to school. I told her they would never accept me because I had flunked out three times.
“Sandy wrote a magnificent letter. I took the letter to the dean. After reading it, he asked me if I wrote it. I lied and told him yes. I was desperate with a wife and son. He stepped out for about 15 minutes, came back with a piece of paper and told me to read it and sign it.”
What did you sign?
“If I made any grade less than a B, I would never again step into the 40 acres known as the University of Texas. Plus, I had to take a minimum of nine hours and the classes would be picked by my counselors. I got my degree in sociology. I made one B and the rest As.”
“Plus, I was working 40 hours at the time. I did not see my wife and son five days a week. I went to classes, studied and worked 20 hours a day.”
What were you doing for a living while attending the University of Texas for the fourth time?
“A menial job cleaning chips that came from lathes in a machine shop. Being a foreigner, that’s the only job they would give me, although I had a couple of years of college. After about six months, I overheard the supervisors fretting about the fact that the draftsman was sick and his assistant was on vacation.”
“I said, ‘Sir, I can draw.’ In college, I started out to be an architectural engineer. They told me to draw something. I did and they made me assistant draftsman. In eight years, I was their sales manager. Eventually, I was pegged to be in charge of human resources as well, but needed to get my graduate degree. That’s when I decided to apply at St. Edward’s University.”
Tell me about your business today.
“For 32 years, I buy hydraulic components — cylinders, mostly. I sell them to the steel mills. My concentration is mostly on continuous casters. The reason I have survived is I check my principles as if I’m using the cylinders myself. My cylinders have warranties above and beyond what steel mills normally get.”
“When a customer wants some assurance beyond the standard warranties, we provide a warranty that fits the customer’s needs. In steel mills, tonnage produced is the most important component of the warranty. Our warranties are based on tonnage produced. This is a critical element in the continuous caster environment.”
Very good. Mike, do you care to talk politics?
“Sandy and I were extremely liberal. We worked for (Lyndon Baines Johnson) when he was running for the presidency. We put leaflets in every door when Hubert Humphrey ran for president.
“My wife and I turned conservative when a peanut farmer said on the radio that we were the reason the country was going to hell. He said the people of the United States didn’t have the capability of kicking (butt).”
I voted for Jimmy Carter twice and don’t remember him saying that.
“Then comes the B-grade actor.”
“And he said, ‘What? We’re the best!’ The country believed it. I believed him. For eight years, I was thrilled with Ronald Reagan. He allowed people like me to generate wealth.”
It’s your interview, Miray.
“When Obama ran the first time, I did not mind that he got elected. Change, change. What change? What the hell changed?”
You’re right, things are almost as bad as when the Texan was running the show. Speaking of which, how were you treated during the ‘50s and ‘60s in the Lone Star State?
“They called me a camel jockey. I told them the first time I saw a (expletive) camel was at the San Antonio Zoo.”
I but scratched the surface with Mike Dalkilic. Years ago, he was named an honorary Texan by the governor of Texas. More recently, in honor of his 70th birthday, Mike Dalkilic Day was officially celebrated, a proclamation signed by the mayor of Crown Point.
Dalkilic has missed but four University of Texas home football games in 24 years, albeit he’s lived in Northwest Indiana since this country’s bicentennial year. He detests the University of Notre Dame.
Dalkilic worships Ataturk, the first president of Turkey, and George Washington, the first president of the United States. The first Republican president, “Honest Abe” Lincoln, is his ultimate hero.
Dalkilic has enjoyed sailboats and Harley Davidsons for 40 years. He collects oil lamps from around the world, some of them date from before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Mike Dalkilic earned an Eagle Scout badge in Turkey and marched with migrant workers in Texas.
He’s a Turk who wears cowboy boots.
And quite a piece of work.