Getting Personal: Mindy Manolakes

Getting Personal: Mindy Manolakes

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, Paul Wood chats with King Elementary School kindergarten teacher and actress Mary Lynda (Mindy) Manolakes of Urbana.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

My alarm goes off at 5:30 during the school year. During the summer, my "cat alarm" goes off sometimes earlier. I drink a cup of coffee and make my bed (thank you, Mom, for setting a good example).

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

Becoming a teacher. I really wanted to go to New York City and become an actor, but my dad had a "sit-down" with me in college and told me I could always do theater while I taught school. I love teaching more than anything in the world and thank my father every day for that conversation (among a million other things).

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

A beautiful mantel clock that my brother, Tom, gave me many years ago when we weren't speaking to each other. The card said "time heals." He was right.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

I will watch any ghost-hunting show out there. I have a thing about ghosts. Not a weird thing, just a wouldn't it be cool if I wasn't so scared of them and could go hunting with that foxy ghost-hunting guy on the Travel Channel? thing. I guess my other guilty pleasure is using words like foxy.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I read teacher books pretty much all the time: "How To Teach Better," "What Not To Teach," "How To Teach When You Are Trying To Prepare For Silly Tests," "What To Wear While You Are Teaching," "How To Fall In Love When You're A Teacher," etc.

My favorite book ever is "Charlotte's Web." I read it every year to my kindergarten class (only about a page a day; it takes almost all year). I cry every time a certain character dies (I don't want to spoil the ending, but the character's name rhymes with Schmarlotte). The kids love it.

"Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Perfection.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I love New York City. if I could, I would go there more often. I love the people and their trippy thick accents. I love the theaters and the cabbies and the bridges and even the garbage in the streets. I heart that city — as they say.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

My cat Noodle (RIP). I was at a women's retreat in New Harmony, Ind., about 10 years ago. They had a bunch of cats running around. Noodle picked me out, all weekend following me around and even scratching at the window when I was doing yoga (or trying to). When I was leaving, he crawled into my luggage while I ran inside to grab more stuff. When I came out, his little black and white head was sticking out of the zippered bag. We were inseparable from that moment on. He picked me. I was never luckier than that moment.

What's your favorite sports team?

Sports? Yuck! What if I say what my favorite sports drink is: Gatorade Cool Blue (but only when it's really hot; otherwise, I drink Diet Peach Snapple).

What would you order for your last meal?

Unless I am on death row — I probably won't have the option of knowing it is my last meal (and let's face it, how many kindergarten teachers are on death row?). But, I would order sushi. Maybe it would be bad sushi or badly prepared puffer fish sushi and then it really would be my last meal. And, as often as I eat sushi, there is a high chance that it will indeed be my last meal.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

Keanu Reeves' pillow.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Neil Young top of the list and taking up the next 10 slots. He speaks to me. I love seeing live music. Champaign-Urbana has the best local music scene: I love Elsinore, Brandon T. Washington and anything that Ian Shepherd is playing drums on.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

When I graduated from the University of Illinois, my dad was onstage for his doctoral students. The audience made a big "ahhhhhhh" when it was my turn to receive my diploma but I didn't know why my dad walked to the center of the stage and they announced that he would be handing me my diploma. I didn't hear because I was too worried about tripping to listen to any announcements. I think it was only fair that he handed it to me; he paid for it. It was such a wonderful moment. I didn't shake hands with him — I gave him a big 'ole daddy/daughter hug.

Another happy day was more recent when I got engaged but it didn't work out, so I guess that counts as my happiest and saddest moment. Ah, life. Ups and downs.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

This is easy. First, my best friend, Jennifer Kaufmann, who is the best dinner date in the world and one of the funniest people I know. Next, Neil Young, we would have an awesome soundtrack for our dinner maybe I could sing harmony between courses.

Lastly, Keanu Reeves. Why? If you have to ask then you are definitely not invited to any of my other dinner parties. That man puts the cream in my coffee, the spark in my plug, the bee in my hive, well, you get the picture. Anyone know him? Give him my number, please.

As far as a menu — does it matter with such awesome company? Maybe grill some steaks outside.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

I am not much of a history buff. I thought there was going to be a question about my shoes? So, instead of Googling a historical figure that makes me seem smart and sensitive or talking about the usual greats (Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Harvey Milk) — I'll just say that my favorite shoes are my new hot pink patent leather high-top Doc Martens boots. You can spot them a mile away, and my students love them!

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

Rudeness. What is the point? Does it make you feel better to snap at the waitress or get all grumpy waiting in a line? Try a smile and a little humor — you could be making their day, or you could keep ruining it.

I tend to isolate myself too much. I am trying to get out more. But if you saw my cute little house — you wouldn't want to leave it, either.

What's your best piece of advice?

Never pet a shark with a bloody hand. Or, follow your heart. Either one is good advice, I think.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I worked at Mabel's Nightclub for something like nine years from waitressing and bartending to finally tough and scary door person. I'm sure I made nothing, but I loved that place. I dare you to name an awesome musician or band who didn't play at least once at Mabel's.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

There was a time when I wanted to major in theater. While that would have been awesome and fun, I do love teaching and the regular paychecks it brings. Though I'd probably do it for free — just don't tell my school district.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

Not a single regret — well, maybe buying those MC Hammer pants in the early '90s. I have been so blessed with a wonderful family, the best job in the world, a beautiful home and a million loving friends. How can you complain or wish for any other outcome? Your life is your life. I try to be kind and hope people are kind in return.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Teaching kindergarten can be very stressful. Sometimes I have to close my eyes, take a deep breath and go to my happy place (Keanu Reeves in a scuba suit or a moonlit field full of fireflies — both work equally well).

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