Melinda McManus is the chair of this year’s Heroes Gala – her third year chairing the event benefiting Operation New Uniform, a local charity that helps veterans make a successful transition to the civilian workforce.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Houston, Texas and attended the University of Arkansas and enjoyed a rewarding 17-year career at J.B. Hunt Transport.
I have a 27-year-old stepson, Mason, who’s getting married in December; a 25-year-old daughter, Anna Catherine, who’s a pediatric speech pathologist in Dallas; and a 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, who’s a sophomore at Ponte Vedra High School and a dancer.
My husband, Midd, and I have been married nearly 20 years and moved from Southlake, Texas to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2015.
I’m the daughter of an FBI special agent and the stepdaughter of a marine. I love this country and have always appreciated the freedom Americans get to enjoy.
What led you to get involved with Operation New Uniform and how long have you been helping the cause?
I’ve known the founder and executive director, Michele McManamon, for about seven years.
I attended my first Heroes Gala in November of 2018. I remember having a lunch meeting with Michele a couple of weeks before the event and realizing she needed help with the auction. I spent my entire 48th birthday at her office getting the auction organized.
At that first gala, I really came to understand what ONU does and why it’s so important.
My involvement in the gala has increased each year since. While my volunteer experience is mainly with silent and live auctions, my role at the ONU Heroes Gala has blossomed to chairing the event; this is my third year in that role.
What are the primary goals/services provided by the organization?
ONU prepares veterans for a successful transition into the civilian workforce.
They undergo an intense 3 ½ week course and the transformation in that short time is incredible. By the end, they know they have much to offer the business community, and how to communicate their talents and skills.
They know how to produce a compelling resume, give an elevator speech and truly network. ONU has relationships with companies, which have come to expect strong candidates from ONU classes and often hire graduates on the spot at graduation. ONU is in it for the long haul with its alums. We’re family, as Michele likes to say.
When is this year’s Heroes Gala?
This year’s event will be held on Saturday, December 3 at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa. We are fortunate this year to have national media personality Brian Kilmeade as our master of ceremonies and Lt. Col. Allen West as our guest speaker.
It’s going to be a wonderful evening honoring and supporting our veterans, and tickets and sponsorships are still available. More information is available at onuvets.org/heroes-gala.
What do you enjoy most about the initiatives they do and how ONU goes about helping others?
I believe there’s no group more deserving of our gratitude and help than our veterans. Our service men and women, all branches, choose military careers out of love for country, out of an understanding of the liberties that set America apart from all other nations, and out of a belief that this nation of ours is worth defending and her freedom is worth protecting.
It breaks my heart to think of all a veteran has sacrificed, on my behalf and yours, only to struggle in the transition to civilian life. For veterans to go months, even years, underemployed or unemployed after retirement from the military is just not right.
Operation New Uniform is a real difference maker, and a life changer in many cases.
ONU teaches veterans that their identity is not tied up in their military rank or the uniform they wore. They are far more than that and have so much to offer.
I’ve been to several ONU class graduations, and it’s impossible not to cry. They have hope, confidence, courage and a new lease on life!
To be involved in a major fundraiser that enables this powerful program to continue to be offered to veterans at no cost to them is truly an honor and a delightful way to give back and say thank you to a people who have done far more than that for me.
What are some of your roles as the chair of this year’s Heroes Gala?
I try to be an ambassador for ONU. Many of my friends help by serving in various roles on the gala committee.
I host most of our planning meetings at my home and work with the executive director and our professional event planner to be sure the mission of ONU and the priorities of Heroes Gala are understood and executed beautifully at a first-rate event.
I also solicit for silent and live auction items everywhere I can. I find that people are generally honored to donate an auction item to an event that benefits veterans. So, I’m not bashful about asking.
In what other ways do you try to stay involved in the community?
My other passion is the Tim Tebow Foundation’s annual Night to Shine. It’s a prom for people with special needs, and every year it takes place on the Friday before Valentine’s Day all over the world.
It is highly complex to coordinate all that must happen in order for hundreds of people with special needs to get their own “night to shine,” and I have utmost respect for those who spend all year working to get every detail planned and every accommodation made.
What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?
I am so happy to live just a few hours’ drive from really cool weekend destinations like Savannah, Charleston, Hilton Head Island and Orlando. We lived many years in Dallas, where a weekend getaway inevitably involved a plane flight.
I absolutely love the people of this community. Some of my friends here are lifetime locals, but many are from other parts of the country or even the world. There’s a wide age range but a consistent genuineness. It’s a gift to live where outdoor living is the norm year-round.
And we have the beach. We live where people vacation – how lucky are we?
What do you like to do in your free time?
My husband, Midd, is my favorite person to spend time with. I love our date nights at Aqua Grill and really treasure vacations with him when I can talk him into them. Our daughter Rachel and her friends spend the majority of their time together at our house, which I love.
I love to play tennis. I took it up when we moved here from Texas in 2015, and my regret is that I didn’t start sooner. Tennis is an incredibly social sport, plus a great source of exercise and competition.
I also love pickleball. We built a house recently and put a regulation-sized pickleball court in our front yard. Midd and I invite friends over for pickleball parties fairly frequently, and I have a couple of standing weekly matches with different groups of girlfriends. I also love group fitness classes and cooking. We are members at Church of Eleven 22, and I’ve served at our thrift store, Hope’s Closet, as well as in the students’ ministry.
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