WIREGRASS (WDHN) — Mike Gurspan has been a household name in the Wiregrass and Florida Panhandle for decades, but now friends and family are mourning a longtime friend.
Mike passed away from glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, on Wednesday, January 31, at the age of 66.
Mike was born in 1957 in Far Rockaway, Queens, to Jean and Daniel Gurspan.
The Gurspan family moved to Bellmore, Long Island, when Mike was in second grade. In the late 1970s, a young man with stars in his eyes left his northeastern home and migrated south to attend the University of Florida for a degree in journalism.
During his senior year, Gurspan was a kicker on the Florida Gators football team, cementing a love for the all-American sport that would last his entire life.
After graduating in 1980, the young reporter stayed in the Sunshine State and started at WJHG Channel 7 in Panama City.
Five years of working at Channel 7 eventually led Mike down the road to WMBB Channel 13, WDHN’s current sister station, where he took on a number of roles, including anchor, reporter, and even meteorologist.
In 1992, Mike ran for tax collector in Bay County, Florida, and almost won. He came in second out of 13 candidates. He then moved a few miles north to the Wiregrass. Here, Mike took a job at Dothan’s Channel 4 as bureau chief for Coffee and Geneva County. While working in the western Wiregrass, Gurspan formed professional and personal relationships that would last the rest of his life.
“He was family to us. He was a tremendous person. People were looking forward to seeing him on the news at night,” said Coffee County Sheriff Scott Byrd, a friend of Mike’s who consistently supported him throughout his cancer battle.
During those early years in the Wiregrass, Mike covered some of the biggest stories of his career, including the 1994 Elba floods, the 2007 tornado that destroyed Enterprise High School and left eight students dead, and the deadliest mass shooting in Alabama’s history: the killing spree of 28-year-old Michael Mclendon.
“The March 1, 2007, deadly tornado struck Enterprise High School. I happened to be in the school, and I saw some horrific situations and scenes, and I saw some heroism,” Mike said after being asked about his most memorable story.
In late 2017, Mike left Channel 4, and in January 2018, he took over as sports director here at WDHN News.
Here, Mike rediscovered his love for the sports world, covering local games and high school competitions, profiling athletes, and recording more game-winning highlights than most reporters half his age.
Mike, 61 at the time, began hosting WDHN’s Extra Point high school football show on Friday nights. While on the Extra Point, Mike, affectionately known as Uncle Gurspy by his friends and coworkers, brought his famous saying, “Roll that pigskin foo-tagee” to WDHN viewers.
In early 2020, everyone’s life took a turn when the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world, and it was no different for Mike.
The father-like figure at WDHN turned his attention back to the world of hard news and began reporting and anchoring WDHN’s newscasts at six and the newscast we produce for WDFX, Fox News at Nine. Viewers have said they loved to tune in to watch Mike.
Three years later, Mike began having problems with blurry eyesight and double vision. In November 2023, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and sent to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, one of the most prestigious hospitals in the South.
There, Mike underwent a nearly four-hour surgery, and doctors were able to remove almost 95% of a malignant brain tumor. After his surgery, he returned to his home in Coffee Springs and began radiation and chemotherapy at Flowers Hospital in Dothan in January 2024.
Once Mike’s beloved friends and fans heard about the diagnosis, there was no stopping the support that poured out from all corners of the Wiregrass.
The Christian Mission in Enterprise held a fish fry fundraiser with the goal of raising $10,000 for Gurspan’s medical bills by selling catfish plates for $10 apiece.
“When we heard that Mike was ill, we wanted to do something to show our appreciation and also help Mike,” said the Reverend John Belcher, director of Christian Mission Center.
Sadly, despite a multitude of efforts and treatments to stop the cancer, Mike passed away.
Mike leaves behind a sister, Catherine Gurspan, two nephews, Alex and Andrew Tobiassen, and many friends who will remember him as a kind, hardworking, and fun-loving confidant who could always make them laugh.
“Mike Gurspan was one of the most professional, ethical, and thorough journalists I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I am honored and humbled to call him a friend,” said Michelle Mann, staff writer at the Dothan Eagle.
“I’ve never seen anyone consistently work longer hours than Mike Gurspan,” said WDHN News Director Glen Horn. “He would start reporting at 9 in the morning, then make his way to the station by noon, put together his stories in the afternoon, then anchor the evening newscasts. He talked about slowing down, but never could. He absolutely loved this business.”
And he loved the people of the Wiregrass. They were his family. And for many, his death is like losing one of their own.