A Minister, Politician, Columnist And More

A Minister, Politician, Columnist And More Father John Mangrum Was An Instrumental Leader In The Early Years Of The Wellington Community

Father John Mangrum — also known as “Johnny The Stroller” — was a spiritual leader, early elected official, devoted community builder and beloved newspaper columnist. This month, our Wellington History series continues by featuring this instrumental leader from the early years of the Wellington community.

The early years of Wellington were filled with fascinating characters, but perhaps none of such well-rounded interests as Father John Mangrum.

Mangrum’s influence cut across many layers of the fledgling Wellington community. He was an Episcopal priest instrumental in growing one of Wellington’s earliest churches. Mangrum was also an ecumenical leader who helped several other religious congregations gain their foothold in Wellington. He was also an avid horse lover known as the “priest of polo,” who gave the opening prayers at the old Palm Beach Polo stadium.

Mangrum was also a political leader, joining the Acme Improvement District Board of Supervisors — Wellington’s pre-incorporation government — in 1981 as the first non-developer representative of the community. First by appointment, then by election, he served as an Acme supervisor for more than a decade as the community wrestled with the thorny issue of incorporation.

Beyond the religious and political spheres, Mangrum was also engaged in the crucial work of community building. His alter ego was “Johnny The Stroller,” the name of his long-running column in the Town-Crier newspaper. He went to events around the young community and wrote about them, always with a focus on weaving together a gathering of transplants from elsewhere into the backbone of a new Wellington community destined for greatness.

In 1976, St. David’s in the Pines Episcopal Church became the first church established in the new community of Wellington. It had a handful of member families when the Rev. John F. Mangrum became its second rector in 1979.

Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mangrum grew up with a deep love of baseball and music. He served in the Pacific during World War II after doing his basic training here in Palm Beach County. After the war, he studied at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University before returning to Michigan to serve as an Episcopal priest.

After several postings in Michigan, he moved to Florida with his wife Shirley in the mid-1950s, serving at congregations in Mount Dora, Avon Park, Tampa, Jacksonville and then Clewiston. He was serving in the Glades when he first heard of the huge new development known as Wellington, and when the position at St. David’s became available, Mangrum jumped at the chance to be involved.

Through the boom years of the 1980s, Mangrum grew his congregation from a few dozen families to more than 400. The church, under his leadership, built a new 300-seat building dedicated on Thanksgiving Day in 1987, and even hosted Prince Charles (now King Charles III) on Easter Sunday in 1980 during one of his polo-playing trips to Wellington.

“He was a very solid priest who brought people into the congregation when Wellington was growing,” recalled Father Steven Thomas, who followed Mangrum as rector at St. David’s. “He was actively involved in the life of the community.”

He first met Mangrum while Thomas was working at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton.

“All of the priests in the southern part of Palm Beach County met once a month. I invited him to come to St. Andrew’s for chapel. He would come maybe once a year and give a talk during the children’s service. He was popular. They loved hearing him,” Thomas recalled.

When Mangrum eventually decided to retire in the early 1990s, he brought Thomas to Wellington and urged him to apply for the position.

“He was instrumental in my coming to Wellington and put in a good word for me with the church council. That led to me being involved in the church community for three decades,” said Thomas, who retired as rector at St. David’s in 2023.

Mangrum’s role in the religious life of Wellington wasn’t contained to St. David’s and his Episcopal flock. He was an active member of the community’s clergy association and used the resources at his disposal to support other congregations. As the leader of Wellington’s first established congregation, Mangrum believed it was his sacred duty to help others get started.

St. David’s housed the fledgling congregations of Wellington Presbyterian Church, St. Peter’s United Methodist Church and Temple Beth Torah while they waited for their own properties to be developed. While the parish that became St. Rita Catholic Church never met at St. David’s, a major fundraiser supporting St. Rita was held at St. David’s.

By the early 1980s, there were several thousand residents living in Wellington, which was still largely controlled by developers. In 1981, the developers chose Mangrum for appointment to a seat on the Acme Improvement Board of Supervisors as a representative of the growing residential population. When several Acme seats were opened to the residents through election in 1989, he stayed on the board, this time as an elected representative.

Acme, Wellington’s pre-incorporation government, had limited control, largely over drainage, roads and parks. But it was also one of the only outlets residents had to express their concerns.

“Father Mangrum was a team player. He was always willing to listen to other people’s points of view,” said Kathy Foster, who served alongside Mangrum in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “When I was president of Acme, I could always count on him to help build consensus.”

Foster, who went on to become Wellington’s first mayor after incorporation, said that Mangrum was “definitely committed to the community and to what the people wanted.”

He was particularly useful at representing Wellington before the Palm Beach County Commission and other areas of county government. “A lot of negotiating went on with the county to make sure they didn’t implement something the people of Wellington did not want,” Foster said.

She added that Mangrum’s importance to early Wellington could not be overstated.

“Father Mangrum was an integral leader in the early Wellington community,” Foster said. “He and Father [Walter] Dockerill [of St. Rita] started the ecumenical association to bring all of the different faiths together.”

She particularly recalled his jubilant personality and his love of polo.

“The thing I remember most was that he always had a smile and witty remark for everyone he met,” Foster said. “He reigned every Sunday at his box at polo. He would call out to everyone passing by. He knew everyone’s names, and always had a kind comment to say.”

In his multi-faceted roles as a spiritual leader, elected official and community builder, one of the tools at Mangrum’s fingertips was his weekly “Johnny The Stroller” column in the Town-Crier. He put that famous wit of his to work, pen to paper, to continue building the Wellington community.

Sometimes he mused about community events, such as the Fourth of July fireworks show (“A Big Bang in Wellington”); sometimes he called for needed amenities (“Wellington Needs Its Own Community Center”); or espoused his favorite pastimes (“Polo Is The Place To Be On Sunday Afternoons”). The goal was the same — further the creation of the community called Wellington.

Reflecting years later, he expressed thanks to his good friend, Town-Crier founder Bob Markey Sr., for giving him a platform to continue his mission of preaching the gospel of Wellington.

Aside from all these other roles, Mangrum was also a charter member and president of the Wellington Rotary Club, a founding member of the Palms West Chamber of Commerce, a founding member and board member of the Wellington Boys & Girls Club, and a board member with the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center.

In 1997, seven years after retiring from St. David’s, Mangrum and his wife left Wellington for a retirement community in Boca Raton. He did return on occasion, including to receive a community service award from the Town-Crier in 2000 and to have his name placed on Wellington’s Founders Plaque in 2003.

Shirley Mangrum passed away in 2001, while Father John Mangrum died March 18, 2010, at the age of 87.

“It was the great Henry Pitt Van Dusen who said that the minister is the duly accredited friend of the whole community,” Mangrum said when interviewed for his Town-Crier community service award in 2000. “That idea has governed my whole life. In Wellington, that is what I was, and that is why you were here talking to me today.”