Illuminating those things that unite us

He’s the patron saint of hard work, eternal optimism and (trigger alert)—personal accountability. Mike Rowe is filming the third season of his newest show when not stumping for his mom’s book, now in its second run. National treasure and consummate story-teller, Rowe once again honors those great American virtues found in the lives of its workers.

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l to r, John, Mike and Peggy Rowe on the couple’s 55th wedding anniversary in 2015. Son Mike got them a new grill.

Returning the Favor, Rowe’s latest series, made for Facebook, shines a light on quintessential American values. It profiles people who are of service to others and shows the profound effects of their deeds.

Can one person make a difference? Rowe’s latest project shouts a resounding yes. His passion for work and its central importance to humanity and this country’s history, tells that story while naming names.

“Fundamentally we’re still united more than we’re divided. You’re not going to find it in your newsfeed and you’re not going to find it on cable, unfortunately,” said Rowe when talking with Tucker Carlson in a recent interview.

“People today are absolutely starving for a topic that everyone in the room can agree on. In my view, that’s what’s going on in the country right now—everything has been so polarized; everything is so divided. Whether it’s music or do-gooderism, there’s a fairly short list of things that everybody can agree on. Most people believe that kindness still matters,” said Rowe.

Rowe’s feel good series was renewed by Facebook for a third season in July. As in his previous hit television show, Dirty Jobs, Rowe travels the country in search of exceptional stories around the theme of hard work. This time he’s on the hunt for people who are giving back to their communities through charitable work. Stars include an Idaho man who provides bedding for children who would otherwise sleep on the floor and a woman who feeds a West Virginia town devastated by the shuttering of coal mines.

Rowe credits his mother, Peggy, for inspiring the show’s premise, which remains Facebook Watch’s highest performing show, tipping over 30 million viewers at launch.

About two years ago, Rowe’s mother wrote him an email after he failed to return her call despite her leaving him two voicemails. Her email was a funny tale about a big blue purse that she had left in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart after shopping. Rowe found the email so entertaining that he read it on a video recorded on his iPhone and posted it on his Facebook page.

“Thirty-six hours later, I checked in on Facebook, and it had been viewed 58 million times, and it reached 123 million people. So literally over a third of the country heard the story of my mother’s big blue purse,” said Rowe. In contrast an episode of Dirty Jobs cost $600,000 to produce and reached two or three million viewers. Big Blue Purse has been viewed by over 68 million as of press time and cost nothing. “That’s the magic of Facebook,” said Rowe.

Mike Rowe Works

Rowe was featured in PRO magazine around the time he spoke at the National Apartment Association conference in June. He’s a celebrated icon of the commercial real estate industry for his one-man campaign to resurrect the skilled trades as viable and respected career options.

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation, a public charity, provides scholarships to those training for skilled jobs. The Foundation has granted or facilitated over $5 million in technical and vocational education for trade schools across the country.

Apartment construction continues to struggle with labor availability. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), there are currently 143,000 vacant construction positions nationwide. A recent survey by NAHB showed that 69 percent of its members were experiencing difficulties in completing projects on time due to a shortage of qualified workers, while other projects were lost altogether.”

Rowe’s work has been a catalyst for changing the narrative around trade careers. However, there remains a distance to go in rebuilding a skilled workforce decimated by cultural shaming. This has resulted not only in unfilled jobs in the trades but also in a generation of debtors holding degrees of questionable worth from 4-year institutions.

Talent runs downstream

About my Mother: Stories of a Horse-Crazy Daughter and Her Baseball Obsessed Mother, was written by Mike Rowe’s mother about his grandma, Thelma. Originally self-published, the book’s next release is set for Nov. 13 by Forefront Books. The original release over the summer sold 15,000 print and ebook copies in three weeks, drawing the attention of publishers.

The book’s forward is by Mike, who has helped to make his mother a favorite among his “little Facebook friends,” as Peggy calls them. Rowe has a regular bit he calls, “Mondays with Mother,” where he shares her humorous antics with more than 5 million followers. Fans have turned out in droves to support “About My Mother,” which collected 76,000+ followers on its own Facebook page in just a few weeks.

“It never fails. Every time I involve my mother in a TV show or a commercial campaign, she upstages me,” says Rowe. “Just as I was preparing to write a book of my own, she cranks out a feel-good hit of the summer. And I’m not even in it! Typical.”

Within hours of the book’s pre-release on Amazon, it made numerous bestsellers lists for the online retailer, and received so many orders that the “pre-order” button malfunctioned. Currently, “About My Mother” is ranked in the top 50 of books on Amazon.