When Bob VanSumeren first walked into his eighth grade math class taught by Mike McKenney, neither of them imagined it would be the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

A few years later, Bob started to date Mike’s daughter, becoming close to the McKenney family. But by the time Bob turned 18, he had dropped out of school, began drinking and using drugs, and wound up homeless. Desperate to make money, Bob robbed a gas station and a bank. He served nearly six years in prison for those crimes.

Bob VanSumeren looking out into the woods as a late teen in the 1990s.

Even though Bob and Mike’s daughter were no longer dating, the McKenney family never gave up on him. Instead, they became the most reliable people in his life, visiting him regularly in prison and helping ease his reentry when he got out. After his release from prison, Bob went back to school, eventually becoming a lawyer.

(L) Becky McKenney, Bob VanSumeren, and Mike McKenney on a prison visit in 2003, at the Camp Kitwen detention center, in Painesdale, MI.
(R) Becky, Bob, and Mike after Bob VanSumeren’s swearing-in ceremony, where he was sworn in as a lawyer by the same judge who sentenced him. 

Bob spoke with Mike using StoryCorps Connect to thank him for his support during this time.

Top Photo: Mike McKenney and Bob VanSumeren after their StoryCorps interview in Jackson County MI. Courtesy of Mike McKenney and Bob VanSumeren.

Originally aired October 23, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.