Each time he drives across the Long Bridge from his home in Sagle, Mike Gunter cannot help but think of the song “How Great Thou Art” while witnessing God’s beautiful creation. It is that love of the place he has called home nearly his entire life that brought him back here after working in various places immediately following college graduation.
Mike is the third generation of the Gunter family to live in Sagle, with his grandchildren being the fifth generation, a fact that makes him very proud. And although Mike didn’t return to Sandpoint right away after college, there was never a doubt in his mind that he would return to his hometown one day. And there are countless in this community who are so grateful he did, as he has touched many lives and inspired others in his life journey.
Mike is known to many as one of the owners of Ponderay Design Center, which includes Sandpoint Furniture, Carpet One and Selkirk Glass and Cabinets. And to others he is known as simply one of the nicest people you will ever have the privilege to meet.
He was introduced to his wife, Karen, by his cousin at the Lewiston Round Up, and the two have been together since. They raised two children, Clint, a 1994 graduate of Sandpoint High School, and Kari (Gunter) Granier, who graduated from SHS in 1996. Clint is the manager of Sandpoint Furniture, and Kari is the vice principal and activities director for Sandpoint Middle School. Mike and Karen are also proud grandparents to Kari and her husband Ross’s two daughters and Clint and his wife, Margie’s, triplets who are 8 years old. Ross is the manager at Selkirk Glass and Cabinets, and Margie is the sales planning manager for Litehouse, Inc.
Mike and Karen live on a portion of the family farm and ranch, 90 acres in all, of which he shares ownership with his brother. It is a place where Mike says his children learned a strong work ethic and the importance of responsibility as they helped with haying and raising animals they showed at the Bonner County Fair through their work with 4-H. Living in a rural place with exposure to agriculture is something that has been an integral part of Mike’s life, and he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I don’t raise cattle anymore,” says Mike. “But I am a horseman. I like to ride, cowboy and enjoy spending time on my (two) horses. I can’t ride them enough but try to as much as I can.”
Being on the ranch brings a sense of peace to him. “There is nothing I love more than going out in the dark after work and feeding the horses. It’s my quiet time.”
It was 1976 when Mike returned to Sandpoint and began working at Sandpoint Furniture, which at the time was located at 205 Cedar Street in the same location where Di Luna’s and Idaho Pour Authority are now.
Then the business was owned by Bob Farmin, Chuck Bonar and Bob Nelson, and in 1984 Mike, along with Dale Jeffres and Dwight Sheffler, purchased Sandpoint Furniture, carrying on the tradition of excellent service and quality furniture that first started in 1945.
With the business growing and nowhere to expand, the trio purchased the Ponderay property where Ponderay Design Center now sits. They have earned a reputation for not only fine quality goods but excellent customer service as well. And just as important, they are an integral part of the community and have contributed to many causes over the years, remaining steadfast supporters to the place they call home.
One organization that Sandpoint Furniture and its staff have been longtime supporters of is Celebrate Life, the nonprofit that was the vision of Sandpoint resident Jenny Meyer, who passed away from breast cancer at a very young age. Jenny’s sister, Julie Walkington, has carried on her sister’s mission and has raised money for local people who are facing a life-threatening illness or diagnosis. It is something that Mike is proud to support and is extremely grateful to his staff for all getting involved. In addition, Mike has been in various advisory groups for Bonner County Planning and was instrumental in the Day of Hope which took place in Sandpoint a few years back.
While Mike is the first to admit he is extremely blessed, there have been challenges in his life journey, teaching him the importance of never taking anything for granted. It is a lesson he learned the hard way as he was literally given a death sentence 11 years ago. Diagnosed with an extremely rare type of cancer that manifests itself through the skin, Mike was told that no one had ever survived the diagnosis. It was a grueling journey as he and Karen lived in Seattle for four months while Mike went through excruciating treatment and received a stem-cell transplant. He survived and his case now the subject of medical journals.
Now, at 67, he is in better shape than many his age. “I feel God kept me around for a reason. I probably should not ask what he wants me to do,” Mike says with a smile, “but he puts things in front of me and I go forward.”
When asked if he plans to retire anytime soon, Mike said it’s not in his plans, but he does enjoy the reduced work hours. “I love every minute of what I’m doing. I come in late and make up for it by going home early. If I rode my horses every day, that would not be nearly as fun as sneaking away from work early to ride them,” says Mike.
And when he speaks of his wife Karen, you can see the deep love and admiration he has for her.
“Karen worked at Sandpoint Furniture for 25 years and retired to take care of our grandkids so our kids could give their careers the attention they needed,” says Mike. “She always said that nobody else could give those grandkids as much love as she could. She has been my partner in this business right from the very start.”
He is grateful for Karen’s steadfast support, especially during his battle with cancer, and for the second chance at life that God has given him. And he will not waste a single moment.
As for his business, Mike said the “second generation,” which consists of some of his and his partners’ children and their spouses, is now the engine that moves the business forward, and his employees are his biggest asset, far and above the property or inventory. He is grateful to all of them.
Mike shares that one thing he strives to instill in his employees is that in order to be successful, they must always remember that it’s not what you say or do but how you make the customer feel.
And if you know Mike or have the opportunity to meet him, you will instantly know that is not just a business philosophy—it’s something he lives and breathes every day. He makes each person in his life feel special, and this community is blessed to have him.