By Eleni Bow
“Every single project I have ever been involved in made me feel proud, because you’re making a difference in student, athlete, coach and community lives.”
– Mr. Reece Mann, Delaware Community Schools Superintendent
It is the evening of Nov. 21, 2017. The Delaware Community School Board has just approved Project 18 – a renovation project to Delta High School that will include over 400,000 square feet of new and refurbished building property, including a new science wing.
Two years later, on the night of Dec. 2, 2019, the school board approved Project 20. This multi-million dollar project would give Delta something it had never had before: 37,000 square feet of additional space to give the school its own fitness center.
Now, it is the fall of 2022. Projects 18 and 20 have been completed. Students and staff alike gratefully use these additions. None of this would have been possible without one man – Reece Alan Mann, former superintendent of Del-Com Schools.
On Friday, Oct. 28, Mann passed away after a two-year battle with a rare bile duct cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. Hundreds of family, friends, coworkers and community members attended his funeral on the football field on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Greg Kile, the current superintendent for Del-Com, wrote an essay about his experiences with Mann in the funeral program.
“Reece took important steps to bolster Del-Com’s curriculum, professional development for teachers, and extracurricular opportunities for students. Anyone who was blessed to work alongside Reece knows that the grass did not grow beneath his feet. Impressive as his professional accomplishments were, it was his care and concern for others that made the biggest impact on the lives of students and staff around Del-Com. Reece Mann loved people well. It was this quality that inspired so many of us to work harder and reach higher on behalf of students; it was this quality that made him a rare leader.”
Mann was born on Jan. 24, 1969, in Hartford City. He would grow up in the sleepy town, where he met some of his first life-long friends, and later coworkers.
Although Delta High School counselor Roger Spaulding first met Mann at eight years old when they played Little League baseball together, some of his favorite memories with him took place in Minnesota.
“Reece invited me on their family fishing vacation at 14 years old, and I found a true passion of mine because of Reece. I went with his family to Minnesota every summer after that and continued to go with them through getting married and having children,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I went 20 straight years to Minnesota with Reece and his family. I have a lifetime of memories of Reece while in Minnesota fishing and just hanging out.”
Doug Marshall, principal of Delta Middle School, attended Montpelier Middle School, where he first met Mann, who was a student at Blackford High School at the time.
“[Mann] was 4 years older than I was in school. As a middle schooler, I looked up to him and his friends. He was a successful athlete and student,” Marshall said. “He was someone to admire.”
Mann graduated from Blackford High School in 1987, where he was a three-sport athlete. Four years later, he graduated from Franklin College with a bachelor’s degree, playing football and baseball for the college. He would later be inducted into both Blackford High School and Franklin College athletic halls of fame.
Like Marshall, Chris Conley, principal of Delta High School, knew Mann before they worked together.
“I had the opportunity to know Mr. Mann first as a fellow varsity football coach when he was at Blackford and I was at Alexandria. We met again when he began working at DMS and his children started to attend Del-Com Schools. Even then he was a very warm and gregarious man. When he came to be our superintendent, I was happy to get to know him on a professional level. Mr. Mann was not one who was content to just get something done, or to do it in the way it had always been done in the past. He thought outside the box and wanted those ideas carried out as well as they possibly could.”
In the Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tenn., Mann married his wife Stacey in 1992. He then continued his secondary education at IUPUI to receive his master’s in counseling.
Not too long afterward, he received his education specialist degree from Ball State University, and found his first counseling job, where he first met Ross Elwood.
Although Elwood is currently an assistant principal for Delta High School, he used to be the principal at Montpelier Middle School.
“I was fortunate to hire Reece as our guidance counselor in 1995,” Elwood said. “It was obvious from the beginning that he was driven to serve the students, teachers and community to the best of his ability.”
Elwood recalls the memories they created for the next 12 years, such as the annual eighth grade field trips to Washington, D.C. “I also remember how Reece relied on his tremendous faith to help guide our students, teachers, parents and myself through some very tragic events,” Elwood adds. “He always knew what to say and how to comfort others in their time of sadness and grief.”
Mann worked at the Montpelier school until 2009, moving to Delta Middle School as a counselor, then to the Monroe Central School Corporation as the director of student services. This was the school corporation that first appointed Mann as superintendent.
In 2016, Mann became the superintendent of Del-Com. Three years later, he was named Superintendent of the Year for district six by the Indiana Association for Public School Superintendents.
Kile recalls the first time he met Mann in a professional setting.
“The first thing I noticed, of course, was that he was the size of a house. Good grief, he was a big man. The next thing I noticed, this too will not be a surprise to anyone, were his shoes. The man tended to rock a fancy pair of shoes. I was Principal of Eaton Elementary School in those days. The board meeting came to a close and a line formed, maybe 15 people or so started lining up to meet Reece. So picture me waiting in this line, waiting to meet my new boss, and watching people shake his hand. Now, I did what some might consider to be a foolish thing and looked at the next biggest guy in the room, Joe Schmaltz, Principal of Albany Elementary at the time. Joe had also not yet met his new boss, Reece Mann. I said, ‘Joe. I will give you $1 if you give him a hug instead of a handshake.’ Joe did it. I couldn’t believe it. But that wasn’t the most memorable part. What will always stay with me is the way Reece effortlessly threw Joe into a bear hug right back. He just swallowed him up in a way that felt joyful and sincere. So there we all were, meeting for the first time in a somewhat formal setting, and the two biggest guys in the room, two strangers, were in the corner hugging it out. That was a dollar well spent and a window into the wonderful man who would become my leader and my friend.”
Mann was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in November 2020. He underwent surgeries and several treatments of chemotherapy and radiation for the months following. Many would believe this would have slowed him down or dampened his outlook on life, but rather, it was the exact opposite.
“Reece once prayed over supper (and) thanked God for cancer because it made him a better person, husband, father, and grandpa,” Spaulding recalls.
Journalism teacher and head boys’ and girls’ tennis coach Tim Cleland knew Mann long before his cancer diagnosis. However, Cleland believes they became closer during Mann’s battle.
“He became an active participant in SmashCancer, which our girls’ tennis team organizes each spring. He was a Server Survivor at the event, he spoke at our season-ending banquet in the spring of 2021, and he helped host the boys’ tennis team at his brother Rick’s home in Jasper in the fall of 2021. One afternoon he had chemo during the day and still showed up at our girls’ tennis Senior Day ceremony because he didn’t want to miss it. In Jasper, he helped do the laundry for our tennis players after we played on a Friday night so their uniforms would be clean and fresh early on Saturday morning for their matches. I will never forget him pulling up to our hotel after 11 o’clock at night with a carload of shirts, all on clothes hangers. I cannot imagine another superintendent in the midst of a cancer battle doing that for a tennis team.”
While Mann touched so many of his coworkers’ lives, he also made sure to leave personal impacts on the students of his corporation.
Delta senior Caleb Elliott recalls a moment of his kindergarten year at Monroe Central Elementary School, the first time he caught a glimpse of Mann’s character.
“I found a ring on the ground when we had just gotten back from recess, and I took it to my teacher. She learned it was one of the secretary’s rings. It was her engagement ring. A couple days later, I got a letter from Mr. Mann telling me to keep doing the right thing. Then I went to his office, and he gave me a solar powered radio. To a kindergartner, that was pretty cool.”
Kelli Edwards, a secretary to the principals at Delta High School, first met Mann when she worked at Eaton Elementary School. She recalls being impressed with him when meeting for the first time.
“He would walk into the room and everyone stopped to see what he was going to say or do. Yes, partly because he was our Superintendent but the other part was just his enthusiasm. His love of people and our schools was just so evident in everything he did. I got to know him and his family and a deep respect for him grew as I saw first-hand how much he loved God and his family. I was able to work alongside him on the Del-Com Foundation board and worked to support our teachers and students through different needs presented to us. He was so enthusiastic about meeting their needs and would try to meet us halfway with a need and work it out …. I miss his enthusiasm, his love for our community and his family, I will miss his text messages of encouragement, and his leadership, but as I have said before, this isn’t a goodbye, it’s just a see you later….”
Mann was an outdoorsman with a love of fishing, kayaking and bird watching. He was also a member of the Sons of the American Legion, Millard Brown Post #156 in Montpelier. However, one of the things he loved doing the most was practicing his Christian faith in and out of Southern Wells Community Church.
Zoie Twibell, Mann’s daughter, recalls a special moment the family had together before her father passed.
“One thing that has really helped me through the passing of my Dad is a little discussion that we had before he left us. In our nightly devotional readings … we read together that 1,000 days on earth is equivalent to 1 day in Heaven. Think about that for a second. Almost three years on earth without him physically here is only one day in heaven. So towards the end when we knew he was close we were able to see the smile on his face when saying that we would see him in a couple more days. Mom (10 days), Ozzie & me (20 days). [The fact that] we would see him in a couple days is all it took to get that smile and ‘I love you’ out. Right now I know he is dancing on the streets of gold preparing our mansion for us and I can’t wait to be wrapped up in his arms again. I am so beyond blessed that he was my Dad for 24 years. He is a huge part of who I am, my faith, my strength, and I will hold him in my heart every single day.”
When Mann was first diagnosed with cancer, the high school sports teams looked for ways to show support for Mann when they competed. Just one of the many teams that showed great support for him was the boys’ basketball team, coached by Mark Detweiler.
“I suggested the idea of using the MANN UP campaign through our basketball program. If that ends up being the highlight of my career, then I think that’s a pretty special thing. I just know how much that meant to him and lifted him up, and lifted up those supporting him.”
Kile strongly believes Mann taught him some of the most important lessons of his life to use both in and out of the workplace.
“There is just one that I want to highlight right now: Reece Mann was keenly aware of his own strengths and weaknesses and keenly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around him. Many leaders, educational and otherwise, consciously or not, will push away people whose strengths might shine a light on their own weakness. There is a natural fear that their own inadequacies might be exposed. But not Reece Mann. He drew people close who brought to the table strengths that would round out his leadership and help this school corporation better serve its children. He spoke encouragement into their lives. He took counsel from them and he turned them loose to go and be great. This rare leadership quality that abounded in Reece was a window into the man’s courage, humility, intellect, and heart. It is one of the lessons he taught me that I will take with me for the rest of my life.”
Conley knows that not only did Mann leave a large memorable legacy on those who knew him, but he also left a physical legacy. Students and staff at Delta High School will be able to see his projects and accomplishments for years to come.
“He made sure both Project 18 (science rooms and main office) and Project 20 (commons and the Fitness Center) were completed on time. He put in motion a push to make our facility not just good enough, but the best around, and the best it could be. I think when you walk around Delta High School, you can see the imprint he left. There is a country song called ‘Live Like You were Dying’ by Tim McGraw. Part of the song captured what Reece did:
“I loved deeper/
And I spoke sweeter/
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”/
And he said/
“Someday I hope you get the chance/
To live like you were dying”/