A chess teacher to thousands of local children, Jack Mangan showed his students from primarily poor and disadvantaged backgrounds how, in chess as in life, they should plan their next move, think creatively and persevere even when the situation looks bleak.
A fundraiser, elementary school teacher and founder of several Minneapolis chess clubs that continue today, Mangan died Sept. 1, four months after a terminal cancer diagnosis. He was 67.
Legions of Minneapolis kids who might otherwise have never seen a chess board learned the game through Mangan, who employed a humble but disciplined persona to guide his students.
Aside from numerous tournaments and impromptu games at public libraries and community churches, Mangan taught chess at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center, Seward Montessori School, Field Community School and Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary.
He often drew in adults to grow the coaching ranks. “The best advertising he had was successful teams,” said Don Hooker Sr., a coach who worked with Mangan and whose son, Don Jr., won a national chess championship in 2012.
Hooker said he met Mangan in the 1990s when Mangan showed up at his son’s school with a chess board. He soon joined Mangan as a coach, eventually volunteering with him at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.
Mangan would talk with the kids “about making better moves, about thinking before you move,” said Hooker.
After forming the nonprofit organization Minneapolis Chess, Mangan turned fundraiser to help his chess protégés enter local tournaments and travel to national ones.
“He sent kids to nationals almost every year for the last 20 years,” said Alex Adams, another coach. “Sometimes he would fund even their parents, if he figured they needed to go.
“The thing about chess that he believed in was that it taught them so much about abstract thinking, how to win, how to lose, how to be honorable. His belief was that kids are smart, all you have to do is get to them and give them the opportunity to play and they would win.”
Mangan was born in Baraboo, Wis., and moved with his family to Woodbury, where he joined the chess club in high school. He met his wife of 30 years, Jean, after he joined the outdoor activity club Minnesota Rovers.
They bought a house in the Old Highland neighborhood of north Minneapolis. A beloved 19th-century farmhouse in Dassel, Minn., was their weekend retreat. Mangan earned degrees from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, eventually taking a job as a behavior specialist with Minneapolis Public Schools.
Among many stories from her husband’s years of coaching chess, Jean Mangan said her favorite was the day she stopped by Seward Montessori and Jack asked her to play against a young girl. Jean said she was soundly beaten in 10 minutes.
“Just parked my ego at the door, honey,” said Jean Mangan, a physical therapist at HCMC.
Tremayne Talbot, one of Mangan’s students, said he was bouncing through the state’s foster care system and sometimes homeless when he met Mangan. Playing chess at his elementary school gave him direction, and after he graduated from high school he went to the University of Minnesota to get his bachelor’s degree, at Mangan’s urging.
“He was one of the best role models you could have had,” said Talbot.
Services have been held. Mangan’s family requests memorials go to Minneapolis Chess, 1121 Jackson St. NE., Ste. 134, Mpls, MN 55413. The program funds chess tournaments for inner city youth and the chess program at the Minneapolis Juvenile Detention Center.