Volunteers rehab Midlothian soldier’s home
By Susan Demar Lafferty firstname.lastname@example.org August 24, 2013 8:30PM
Updated: October 24, 2013 2:36AM
To say that the Mango family was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
Throughout the day Saturday, their conversations were filled with words like “incredible,” “amazing,” awesome,” “blessed” and “happy” as they celebrated with the veterans and tradesmen who voluntarily rehabbed their Midlothian home over the past four months.
“It’s awesome how this whole community came together,” U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brett Mango said as he greeted well-wishers nonstop as he and his wife and three children moved back into their home — Mango’s boyhood home — at 145th and Keeler.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s like a new house,” he said.
A parade of veterans led Mango and his family from the VFW Post to his home, where they lined 145th Street with American flags, then watched him raise the flag on his new flagpole.
As he tried to thank the volunteers, the crowd, in turn, thanked the Army sergeant for his service to them and his country.
“My kids are so happy to be back here. Now they will have friends for life like I did. I’m happy to be home,” Mango said.
His 11-year-old daughter Hannah summed it up most eloquently for the family.
“We would not have had this house without all of you,” Hannah said as she addressed the crowd in front of her family’s home. “I remember we were so worried about moving here and having a house and about my dad feeling all right. It was just a whole bunch of worrying.
“There are no words that can say ‘thank you’ to you guys. We are really blessed to have you in this world.”
Mango grew up in the split-level house, joined the Army after high school graduation, bought the house from his parents in 2006, then left five years ago, when he decided to rejoin the Army. He had fixed it up to sell it — installed new carpeting and remodeled the bathroom. The house never sold, but it did attract squatters and vandals, who kicked in the doors, took out the copper pipes, ripped down the walls and ceilings and defecated on the carpet.
That was what he found when he decided to return to his house after suffering a disabling injury while serving in Afghanistan in July 2012.
“I could not believe what happened. I didn’t know where to start,” he said.
His uncle, Paul Klimczak, commander of the Midlothian American Legion Post 691, made a call to Bruce Nelson, business representative for Carpenters Local 434, and the effort to rebuild Mango’s home took off like a snowball rolling downhill.
“They donated their most precious thing to me — their time,” Mango said. “I am proud to be part of this community. I can’t wait to help the next person.”
Crews continue to put the finishing touches on the house. Before Saturday’s festivities, workers installed downspouts. There are still lights, mirrors, safety bars, handrails and a fence to be put up, and the hope is that donations will continue so a new concrete driveway and sidewalk can be installed to make it easy for Mango to get around.
The 38-year-old Bremen High School graduate shattered a disc in his back and ruptured several others when he dove into a ditch for cover with his 125-pound pack as his patrol unit was ambushed. He still is undergoing physical therapy and will be retiring from the Army.
His family moved in a few days prior to Saturday’s welcome home party, so his three children, Hannah, 11, Brock, 8 and Jackson, 6 could start school.
“My wife Johanna holds the family together. She’s a champ. I am very blessed,” Mango said. “My kids have spent a lot of time without me.”
His sons are thrilled to have the same bedroom once occupied by their father as a child.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s just incredible that so many people care about our family,” Johanna Mango said.
Mango’s mother, Faith Mango, who used to own the house, said she is grateful her son came home, “because so many did not.”
Her brother, Klimczak, got the ball rolling, she said, “and it just snowballed.”
She said she hopes they can pay it forward to the next person in need of help.
“Maybe more communities will do this,” she said.
“This is what Midlothian is all about,” Bremen Township Supervisor Maggie Crotty said.
American Legion member Dave Twombly said he gets goosebumps just thinking about the project and would like to see a continued effort to help more returning veterans.
“We have 117 empty houses in town. We should try to target them for veterans. Let’s try to create the extreme makeover: military edition,” he said.