Most people remember fondly their living arrangements in college, despite the often cramped dorm rooms and a diverse cast of roommates.
Greg Mengarelli’s college “dorm” was a barn, and his roommates were sheep.
Mengarelli is one of two candidates to be the next mayor of Prescott in the Nov. 7 general election. Early voting begins Wednesday.
Mengarelli said he was active in Future Farmers of America and the 4-H Club in high school and once he arrived at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, he lived, and worked, at the school’s research sheep farm.
“I literally lived in a barn, an apartment in the barn,” Mengarelli said. “Loved that, loved going to school that way, because it made me feel more comfortable even though I was in a bigger city … and that’s how I got myself through college.”
Mengarelli has always lived in rural Kansas. His father was a football coach, but later in life became a Methodist pastor, so Mengarelli said he spent a couple of years as a preacher’s kid.
But his youth was mostly spent outside the home.
“We were always outside, we were always in the outdoors,” Mengarelli said. “My dad did a few day camps. … I grew up hunting and fishing, and we lived on a river for a while … so I think my love for the outdoors and the idea of running the camp eventually, was born out of how I grew up outside all the time.”
That love of the outdoors is why Mengarelli pursued his degrees in natural resources, he said. And helping his dad stage those day camps when he was in middle and high school might be what led him to his future occupation.
Once he graduated from Kansas State, he pursued a career in outdoor education, first in central California before returning to Kansas. In 1995, some friends in Phoenix suggested he look into an opportunity in Prescott, heading the United Christian Youth Camps, which started in 1952.
“When we drove in …, it was amazing to see Thumb Butte and downtown, … I love small-town Kansas, it’s what I grew up with, so this reminded me of my roots and what I grew up with. For both my wife and I, we instantly fell in love.”
Mengarelli and his wife have nine children, and that was a major reason he said he decided to get involved in school politics, including pushing for the approval of funding bonds in 2013 and 2015. It was also a reason he decided to run for a seat on the Prescott Unified School District, where he now serves as its president.
He arrived just as the district was downsizing because of the growth in charter schools.
“It’s painful, but sometimes that leads to good growth and new ideas. I saw that happen, and I think we’re in a great spot now.”
For a guy who spends his working life outdoors managing a camp for Phoenix children who might be getting their first experience in outdoor recreation, he continues to enjoy the outdoors even on his days off.
He said what he really likes to do when he has the time is to head to the trails near Thumb Butte with his children for some mountain biking.
Camps have changed, with indoor plumbing, zip line courses and more technology in the cabins than say 20 years ago, but Mengarelli said he still loves his work.
“I love what I do because we get kids to see there’s more to life than a screen,” he said.