Disabled veteran finds reward in teaching youth

Published: Mar. 28, 2019 at 6:17 AM CDT
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GREENE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Dennis Mangrum is not a tutor but he does teach.

His lessons are not those found in a book.

Instead, they’re imprinted on his mind from years of experience.

"Stop means walk and walk means stop," Mangrum challenges students to think about directions before following them.

"You can do it," he encourages the group of teenagers standing before him inside a horse arena in Beech Grove, AR.

"There's no textbook," Mangrum explains about the nature of his students. "There's no mold."

A Greene County man enjoys working with young people who struggle in school.
A Greene County man enjoys working with young people who struggle in school.(Source: KAIT-TV)

But, some might find this an unlikely pairing.

"They're not bad kids," Mangrum said.

The students are from Greene County Tech's Alternative School, also known as Eagle Academy.

Dennis Mangrum is the latest winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.
Dennis Mangrum is the latest winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.(Source: KAIT-TV)

"It's been amazing since day one," Teresa Brown, Eagle Academy teacher said. Brown nominated Mangrum for the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.

Kids, who for one reason or another struggle in the classroom, maybe due to difficult circumstances at home.

"I want to do it! I want to do it!" students exclaim as Mangrum searches for a subject to illustrate a tourniquet on in the classroom.

Find a sense of purpose here at a horse farm in Beech Grove, run by Susan Boyd.

"A lot of these kids had issues when they first came in. They don't trust. They don't want to be touched and he gets them through all that," Boyd, owner of the farm known as "If Wishes Were Horses."

“The school doesn’t pay him any income or anything," Brown explained about Mangrum's willingness to volunteer.

"I enjoy it," Mangrum said. "It's therapy for me."

A disabled veteran, he has always loved a good challenge. From ice climbing in Alaska to hunting and fishing around the world, wilderness survival he knows well.

"It’s to get your buddy off the mountains or your buddy off the battlefield," Mangrum said.

And these are the life lessons he shares.

“He’ll work with them. He’s patient. He helps them connect from all backgrounds and home lives to help them work together,” Mike Nunnally, Eagle Academy principal, said.

All techniques he learned in the Air Force working as an aircraft mechanic.

"Then I kind of got into search and rescue for about a year and a half to two years," Mangrum said.

This technical sergeant, E6, also was responsible for drug interdiction in South America.

After 20 years, he retired from the military and went to work in a steel mill.

"Then I got hurt and then I was like well, now what am I gonna do?" Mangrum said.

"That's pretty tight," Mangrum address a student applying a tourniquet. "Do you feel that?"

Mangrum did some serious soul-searching.

"Every time that I would veer off to a different direction (away from working with young people), it would be like God would slap me in the back of the head and say, 'No," Mangrum said. "This is where you need to be over here. Do this!"

Mangrum works with students once a week.

"Integrity is something that we really push. Responsibility. Team work," Mangrum said.

"I like Dennis' structure," Nunnally said. "There's no gray area with him. So it's either right or wrong. And there's consequences if you don't do the assignment. You know they may not get to ride that day."

Discipline, character-building and hard work. All things that led to one big surprise.

"Look at this! Holy Cow!" Mangrum said when he saw $408 coming out of the envelope from First Community Bank and KAIT.

With his entire family and members of the Greene County Tech School District watching, Mangrum learned this.

"You are our next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness," I said.

"One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five, six, seven, eight! 408 dollars!"

"On behalf of First Community Bank, thank you for everything that you do," Kembralyn Redman, Merchant Services at First Community Bank said.

"I was totally blindsided by this!" Mangrum said. "I'm just doing what I like. What I enjoy. To me, that's about as good as life gets."

Mangrum plans to use part of his winnings on buying feed for the many animals around the farm.

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