Mike Minder was born and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia. He graduated from Wheeling Park High School in 1981. Mike served in the U.S. Army's Military Intelligence Branch as a morse code interceptor. He was later assigned to the Army Reserve, first as a radio operator in Special Forces, then as an operations sergeant in an engineer company. Mike also worked as a store detective and internal security manager for a major U.S. retailer. In 1995, he graduated from Bethany College, winning the Chapman Prize in History. Mike finished third in a six-candidate race for Mayor of Wheeling in 1996.