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Larry Mengel doesn’t drive his kids to and from sporting events or school, but he still drives a van. He calls his Toyota Sienna his “construction vehicle.”
“That van is full of tools,” the retired U.S. Army colonel said. “I can build anything you want built or I can destroy anything you want destroyed out of the back of my van.”
Mengel began volunteering with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity in 1996 and led the organization for 10 years before stepping down in December. He handed over the reins to the new full-time director, Scott Turner.
On March 4, Lincoln Heritage Council Boy Scouts of America will present Mengel with the Hardin County Distinguished Citizen Award at its Hardin County Friends of Scouts fundraiser at Grace Heartland Church in Elizabethtown.
“I like to do work for needy people,” Mengel said. “Wherever there’s a needy situation, that’s where you’ll find me.”
Stephen Whitehead, finance executive for the Lincoln Heritage Council Boy Scouts, said the organization has been giving out the award for 11 years.
Its first recipient was Bill Swope, Whitehead said, and last year, the Scouts presented the award to Diane Logsdon, the first female recipient.
The award’s recipient does not need to be involved in scouting, he said. The organization seeks to recognize someone who leads through service, and Whitehead said Mengel exemplifies that.
Mengel, who served in the Army for 30 years, not only volunteers with Habitat for Humanity but also serves on the board of directors for Feeding America and is the chairman of the building committee at Memorial United Methodist Church in Elizabethtown. He estimates he spends 50 hours per week in his various volunteer projects.
“My life is pretty much one project after another,” Mengel said. “I probably work more now than I worked when I was working.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Bill Barron, who received the award in 2010, said Mengel is “a prime example of selfless service.”
“He always takes the time to do things for other people,” said Barron, who has known Mengel for 15 years.
David Dozer, who served on the local Habitat chapter’s board of directors for four years, said Mengel has been instrumental in the development of the Hardin County’s Habitat.
He pointed to the creation of the Habitat ReStore at 6476 S. Wilson Road in Elizabethtown as an example of Mengel’s leadership and vision.
“He can formulate a plan and run with it,” Dozer said.
When Mengel first presented the idea of the ReStore to Habitat’s board, Dozer said reception was not positive.
“Some thought it was not the best thing for Hardin County,” he said. “We were going, ‘You want to do what?’”
A donation center and resale store, the ReStore is a fundraiser for the local chapter and its profits finance an entire house each year, Mengel said. He referred to the store as his “baby.”
“We started that in the Peddler’s Mall as a booth,” Mengel recalled. “We weren’t able to make enough money to pay the rent for that. Then we moved into a garage and we got bigger and we got bigger until we moved into the current location.”
Since moving to South Wilson Road, the ReStore has expanded twice and now sits at 7,000 square feet, he said.
“We make in a day what was a good month in 2010,” he said.
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.