By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Marlborough – Donald Manzoli, 69, describes himself as “obsessed” with math, not as a way to make money or design technological devices but rather for the pure beauty of it. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in math from Suffolk University and also took a graduate level course in the subject at Northeastern University. But life, unlike math, is not always straightforward. After he chose to stop his education, his life took different twists and turns, including a stint in a homeless shelter for 10 months.
Then it took a most fortuitous turn – moving to Marlborough and eventually into an apartment complex run by the Marlborough Community Development Authority (MCDA). It was there, where Manzoli not only returned to his love of math, but also achieved great success, writing six research papers in advanced mathematics, the last of which was published recently.
Surprisingly, he was not always, by his own admission, an academically inspired student.
“I was a mediocre student in high school, enjoying my chemistry course but nothing else. I was an outstanding grammar school student, so I was placed in an ‘accelerated group’ of students at the [Peabody] High School. Because of this, when I graduated and enrolled at North Shore Community College (NSCC) in Beverly, they skipped me over college algebra and threw me straight into a calculus course! I have absolutely no recollection of ever hearing the word ‘calculus’ when I was in high school.”
“The ‘Head’ of the NSCC Math Department, Professor Henry Harmeling, single-handedly got me interested in mathematics. On September 14, 1966, the first day of classes, he handed out a mimeographed sheet of paper that explained eloquently why studying calculus is a profound, practical, and pleasurable pursuit,” he added. “I still have that faded old blue mimeographed sheet (and I still have never taken a course in college algebra).”
Manzoli later transferred to Suffolk University where he got a Bachelor of Science degree in math and then took a graduate level course (for which he received an “A”) at Northeastern University before dropping out.
In spite of his love of math, Manzoli knew it was not something that would lead to success, career-wise.
“Unfortunately, my education was not occupationally oriented and I simply was not smart enough to become a teacher, which would have been the logical thing to do for a person such as myself with a passion for his abstract subject,” he said.
Years down the road, it was a couple of longtime friends, Manzoli said, who helped him to find some temporary jobs, allowing him to leave the homeless shelter he had been staying in. More luck arrived later with the help of the MCDA, who provided him with “the most wonderful apartment.” A place to finally call home gave him the opportunity to write his six research papers over a six-year period.
In October of 2016, his 14-page article, based on the work of the Indian mathematical genius Ramanujan (1887-1920), whose life story was the subject of the recent film “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” was published in the prestigious and professional Rocky Mountain Journal of Mathematics (RMJM), where the typical author is a college professor with a Ph.D. in math and a genius IQ.
“This highly improbable and somewhat serendipitous accomplishment was a dramatic demonstration that persistence can be as important as intelligence when it comes to an individual following his or her dream,” Manzoli said. “It took five years of intense effort to write this paper and convince the RMJM to publish it.”
“Inspiring teachers are a priceless commodity in any educational age. I hope that every Marlborough student is eventually influenced by a teacher who motivates them to excellence, as Professor Harmeling did for me,” he added.