The experience that pointed Ken Manges toward a career as a forensic psychologist occurred in Saigon, during the height of the Vietnam conflict in May 1967. He’d been drafted at the age of 20, observed his 21st and 22nd birthdays there and was flat-out scared every day of his 14-month deployment.
On a surreal midnight deployment, Ken was one of thirty GI Joe’s ordered to guard the perimeter of a soccer field where Bob Hope was scheduled to perform the following afternoon. The night passed without incident for Ken and his buddies, but it wasn’t as calm elsewhere on base. The next morning, as he was going through the chow line, a Sergeant Major named Latham ordered him to go to the temporary morgue where the bodies of the Vietcong killed overnight were laid out.
“I see these dead people. Six small men. My God, they were missing limbs and bloodied. Some were the barbers on our base … guys I knew. We paid them to cut our hair by day and they wanted to cut our throats at night.”
“It was so grisly, so strange and upsetting. I wondered what made them think and act that way, friendly and joking with us one minute, then wanting to kill us the next. True terrorists, way before I even knew what the label meant. Up until then, I was personally adrift, and only focused on when I would return stateside. That experience changed me. I knew then I needed to take a different direction with my life.”
Ken grew up on Long Island. His parents were first-generation Americans whose families had immigrated from Germany. His father, a World War I veteran who worked as a stevedore on the docks of New York, died when Ken was 10 years old.
Ken remembers being preoccupied with grief after his father’s passing. His mother was left to raise Ken and his sister alone. She made a point of seeing to it Ken had the same opportunities as his more well-off peers, enrolling him in the Boy Scouts, Sea Scouts and music lessons.
Ken was in advance placement classes in high school, but although motivated to go on to college, he knew there was no money to pay for tuition.
Not going to college had other consequences as well. He was a prime candidate for the draft.
When drafted he was first trained him as a radio communicator, which would have put him 24/7 in the rice patties. But, when the chance came to learn to type, and become a radio teletype operator, he jumped at the chance. This meant he would serve his tour of duty on a base and not in in the field. He’s convinced it’s why he survived Vietnam.
“After I was discharged, I turned my focus from the trauma of seeing dead barbers and counting body bags towards school. I got turned on to psychology and trying to answer why?”
The GI Bill helped to pay the way to a life of learning. When Ken started undergraduate school, it was as if his mind was on fire. He remembers taking it all in. He wanted to learn why and what leads people to make the decisions that cause them to do what they do.
His doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland centered on how people learn best, and which sense modality -- sight, sound or touch – is most effective in learning. He found that when people know their best learning modality, they become empowered in their communications.
He met Barbara, the woman who would become his wife, at a workshop retreat in upstate New York. Ken says she pursued him until he caught her. “We were a natural fit,” he says, smiling. They came to Cincinnati in 1986 with their two children to be close to other family members.
Ken rides a bicycle for the therapy of it. He is also an avid collector of all sorts of items, among them, wire sculptures, keys and locks, and books.
His collection of keys and locks are renown, international in scope, and hang on the walls of his Sycamore Street office. They include a 12th century wood grain lock from Madagascar, a 17th century foot-long master key from Morocco and a 10th century ring key.
In keeping with his perspective on life and his profession, he has trademarked the phrase, “Locksmith of the Mind.” He also has trade marks on “Career Wellness,” which addresses his approach to people’s choices; “Psychologically Speaking,” the title of his NPR program, and “Deliberate Happiness,” the title of his forthcoming book, and on-line coaching course.
Dr. Ken’s enthusiasm for forensics after 40-plus years is evident. He enjoys bringing his creativity, knowledge, and personal warmth to learning about the why and what chances people take, and the choices they make that get them into trouble with the law.
Dr Ken is an observer of behavior. He is earnest and sincere in his application of his profession. As an expert witness, he has testified, “We make choices. Sometimes consciously, other times unconsciously. The affect those choices have on others may be intentional or incidental, but even when well intended, we can never absolutely predict the impact or consequences on how our actions will affect others.”