Bob Denison volunteers to make the old new again
Two local octogenarians don’t let their ages dictate what they do with their time. In fact, they both volunteer year-round at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins.
Bob Denison, 82, and Jorge Mangual, 80, both spend time volunteering at the museum each week. Denison works 40 hours a week in eight-hour shifts as the project manager on the B-17 restoration, and Mangual works the Wednesday morning shift at the volunteer help desk in the Eagle Building.
Although both men are retired from the military after 20 years of service, neither one has let his age slow him down much. Mangual retired from the Air Force and then from civil service at Robins Air Force Base, and Denison retired from the Air Force and later from driving a semi-truck,
“I just enjoy talking and meeting people. ... We get people from all over the world visiting the museum,” Mangual said. “Also, there are the children who come to the museum. ... I just love to see the wonderment in those kids’ eyes when they come in here and look at the airplanes.”
Mangual, who has been volunteering at the museum since 1999, retired from the Air Force in 1975 and started working civil service in 1977 where he loaded airplanes and later worked as an installation deployment officer.
“I’ve been around airplanes most of my life. Golfing and fishing gets old after a while,” he said. “Once a week is not very demanding.”
Mangual, who earned his private pilot’s license after he retired from the Air Force, said he has been around airplanes most of his life and worked most of his military career as a boom operator. Although he learned refueling on the KB-29, during the Vietnam War he flew out of Thailand on the KC-135 tanker, lending direct combat support by refueling the airplanes that were doing the fighting. Last year, however, Mangual had a heart attack, which “grounded” him medically, but he said volunteering his time at the museum gives him the opportunity to still be around airplanes. Mangual resides with his wife, Lurene, in Warner Robins.
Denison, who was stationed in New York, Texas, the Philippines, Robins Air Force Base, Vietnam and Washington before retiring from the Air Force in 1974, also started a second career. He took to the road driving a semi-truck until retiring again in 1991. After his second retirement, Denison just couldn’t stay off the road, so he and his wife, Toshie, hit the asphalt for 10 years in a Honda Gold Wing, putting 180,000 miles on it while traveling across the county, and then spent another eight years on the road in a motor home.
“I’m a gypsy … we’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve been all over the United States, Nova Scotia and all over southern Canada. And every state in the U.S.,” he said.
That gypsy wandering is what ultimately led Denison to move back to the area. Although he said that after being stationed at Robins for nine months, he swore he would never return. But in 2006, while traveling in the motor home, he started stopping at the museum two months in the spring and two months in the fall, to work on the airplanes. He eventually heard that the B-17 was coming in for restoration, and that news pretty much sealed his decision. He bought a house in Byron and moved there in 2013.
Denison started in the military in February 1954, right at the end of the Korean War, and although he did not engage in the fighting, he said it enticed him to “fall in love with the World War II aircraft” and instilled a “passion for bombers and transports” in him that has lasted throughout his life.
“I love WWII airplanes. The B-17 is one of my favorites … so here I am,” he said. “I’m here five days a week, eight hours a day. I do my 40 hours a week as a volunteer.”
Denison said that he enjoys the satisfaction he gets from putting the airplanes back together. For now, his volunteer hours are strictly used on restoring the B-17, which is estimated to take seven more years and a total of about $400,000 to complete.
“By that time, I will be 90 years old,” Denison said. “We’ll have to see. I will probably work till the day I die. I don’t know anything else to do but work. I enjoy (restoration) very much. It is something I’ve always done.”
At the present, Denison has 15 volunteers working with him on restoring the B-17 project. In addition to restoring planes, Denison also restores automobiles and boasts about restoring a 1957 Chevy, a 1941 Pontiac and a 1986 Buick Century Grand Sport.
For more information about volunteering at the museum, call Dan Hart at 478-926-4242 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.