Editor's note: Dennis Mantick is in the center of the above photo.
They say hindsight is 20/20, but they don’t tell you how long it takes to gain that clarity.
Dennis Mantick has had the fortune of reaching said hindsight, he just wishes that it had taken a little less time. Mantick grew up in La Porte County and got his first summer job at age 16 as a playground leader for the parks and recreation department.
“When you are in high school, you never think of how lucky you are, that always comes later,” Mantick said.“ I grew up in a great town that was so supportive. I have to give a huge shout out to them. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Despite knowing what he wanted to do so early, it did take him a few years to get there. When he was in high school, Mantick had another passion, baseball. Mantick has been into baseball for as long as he could swing a bat. He played all four years in high school and that eventually landed him a scholarship at Western Illinois University. He fell in love with the campus and coaches, knowing that was the easy choice. His play earned him a shot at the pros.
Mantick was drafted in 1975 by the Minnesota Twins. For four years, he had the chance to play for all three minor league affiliates of the Twins, including Reno, Orlando, and Toledo. His career came full circle in February when he was inducted into the La Porte High School Hubner Athletic Hall of Fame.
For some, it may be hard to walk away from your original plan. For Mantick however, it was easy.
“Everyone dreams of this moment, I had to take it,” Mantick said of hitting the pros before starting a degree-based career. “If you love the sport, a choice like this is a no brainer. If I had the chance to do it over again, I would do things the same way.”
Towards the end of his baseball career, Mantick decided he wanted to get back into his first passion – parks and rec. He started to pump up his resume and got ready to start his search.
His first opportunity came in York, Virginia. It was especially great for him because on top of everything else, Mantick is a big history buff.
“Whenever my wife and I go on vacation, we always try to include a historical aspect to it,” Mantick said. “Heading to York was the best scenario because I got to live my dream job and be in such a historical place.”
From York, Mantick traveled all over the world. He eventually got a job in civil service with the Air Force, taking him to South Korea and a few different parts of England. From there he got the perfect job as the Superintendent of Peoria Recreation in Illinois.
“Peoria has always been regarded as one of the best park systems in the country,” Mantick said. “When you get a job like this you have to count your blessings. I ended in the perfect place.”
Mantick worked for Peoria for 24 years before retiring. The only problem was the retirement only lasted two days. He received a call from a school in Peoria, offering a job as a physical education teacher and coach. He accepted without hesitation and is now teaching 5 days a week and coaching both basketball and baseball.
“It felt like something that I had to say yes to,” Mantick said. “I loved coaching when I was a kid. If I can give something back to others, that would be the icing on the cake.”