Larry Manguno isn’t speaking figuratively when he says the community at John Curtis Christian School is his family.
In his 52 years working at a school founded by his brother-in-law and now run by his nephew, he has handed diplomas to all five of his children. He’s done the same to four of his six grandchildren.
“You just can’t put a monetary value on that,” said Manguno, 83, who’s been the high school principal at Curtis for three decades.
However, Manguno knows all good things must come to an end, and his time at Curtis is no different. He recently announced he will retire at the beginning of June, which — while not easy — will allow him to spend more time with his wife, Arlene.
“It’s been really my life,” Manguno said about Curtis. “It’s been a joy to be around young people … and these kids teach you so much with technology and computers. It’s a stimulating mental process that I have thoroughly enjoyed.”
The sentiment goes both ways. At a school best known for having a football team that has won an astounding 26 state championships, Manguno helped students and faculty achieve in other fields — such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, social studies and language arts — Curtis spokesman Bill Curl said in a news release about the principal’s looming retirement.
Before heading to Curtis, Manguno graduated from Alcee Fortier High School in Uptown New Orleans in 1949 and Tulane University in 1953. He served a stint in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant and traffic management specialist before working in a similar capacity for Union Carbide Corp. from 1956 until 1963.
He might have remained at Union Carbide for longer, but his brother-in-law — John T. Curtis Sr. — had opened up his namesake school in 1962. After spending its inaugural year at Carrollton Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Curtis moved to its permanent Jefferson Highway campus.
The founder’s family wanted help as the school grew, and one of the people they turned to was Manguno, who left Union Carbide and cast his lot with Curtis.
It paid off. The school now has an enrollment of more than 900 students from pre-K through 12th grade.
The son of Manguno’s sister Merle — present-day headmaster John T. “J.T.” Curtis Jr. — has coached the school to each of its state football titles.
Meanwhile, Manguno carved out a place for himself at Curtis by serving as an administrator, teacher and counselor. He became the principal in 1985, but it wasn’t until four years later that he lived an ever prouder moment.
That was when he coached Curtis to a mixed-doubles state championship in tennis. “At Curtis, they don’t consider you a success unless you win a state championship,” he joked.
Off the school’s campus, Manguno’s students participated in countless educational activities, Curl said. Manguno also pushed them to take part in community service programs such as the annual Children’s Hospital Toy Drive, National Recycling Day, Rotary Youth Leadership and the Kenner North Kiwanis Key Club, of which he’s been a member for almost 40 years.
Noting that many of them have become educators themselves, Manguno said of his students, “They’re the kind of kids that make their family proud and contribute to society — and improve it, as well.”
Curtis invited its community to its high school gym on Sunday to honor Manguno in a ceremony. Arlene Manguno said her husband would have his last day of work not long afterward.