Natural light shined through a window in Mike Tellef’s bedroom at Fletcher Heights Assisted Living in Peoria as he sat in a recliner and reached for a photo album that he said he likes to look at every morning.
Before opening it, he stared at the front cover — a photo of himself, his fiancé and his soon-to-be daughter.
“All Our Love,” reads a caption.
The photo album is just one of the many things Tellef, 65, reminisces over, now that he cannot walk and is confined to his bed. He said he misses not what he did, but who he was.
At 23, Tellef, a former public information officer for the Peoria police and fire departments, launched his career as a reserve officer in Peoria and never left because of how welcomed he felt, he said. Tellef served the city for nearly 37 years before a rare hip infection forced him to retire.
“I miss serving the public. I miss the interaction. It’s not what I did, but it’s what I was. My time as a PIO with police and fire Peoria was fantastic. The community was very welcoming. They just made me feel comfortable here. It was a great place to come to work,” Tellef said.
Tellef recalled some of the interactions he enjoyed the most. “It was fun getting to know the community. I enjoyed doing little things. I would enjoy watching the kids play Little League baseball. The parents were going, ‘Is something wrong? What are you doing here?’” Tellef said. “We’re not here just to provide law enforcement services. We’re here as part of the community.”
In 2011, when doctors discovered an infection in Tellef’s artificial hip, they decided it needed to come out. For years he battled against osteomyelitis, an infection in the bone. “I had an infection, and it was nasty. It didn’t want to go away. I went through 15 surgeries starting in 2015 through 2018,” Tellef said.
While the infection cleared with time and treatment, Tellef said he knew his career was over. “I knew I was done. I couldn’t stand or walk again. I get around with the use of a wheelchair. To get me up, they use what’s called a hoyer lift — a harness on a lift,” he said. “They moved me from my bed to this recliner using a hoyer lift today.”
But even after ending a 30-year marriage, becoming ill, losing his career and moving into an assisted living facility, Tellef remained hopeful.
“Even though I had some negatives, just recently I had some very positive things come my way,” he said.
In 2018, Tellef reconnected with and proposed to his teenage love, Melissa Archer. The rekindled bond filled a gap that was emptied, he said.
“Melissa and I dated for two years in high school. It’s been fun having her back in my life. The cloud that I had over me went away. I’ve had friends tell me I look happier now than I’ve looked in years. She’s made the big difference in me,” Tellef said.
Tellef, who is undergoing physical therapy, is awaiting the arrival of an electric wheelchair from a rehabilitation center in Phoenix, something he said is going to facilitate his situation.
“The wheelchair is OK, but it’s not anything like the electric chair. Once I get that, that’ll make it a little bit easier to get around.”
And in regard to his wedding with Archer, Tellef said plans are still in the works. “We haven’t set a date yet, other than knowing we’re getting married. That’s all we really know right now,” he said.
“My key for us is I want to continue providing her the respect I’m going to give her for the rest of our lives. It’s respect she’s earned. She gives it to me, and I want to give it right back.”