Thunderbolt leader Mari Jo Mulligan knows Havasu tweens inside and out

December 10, 2018 GMT

When your professional life revolves around young adolescents, you learn a thing or two. The eruption of a new zit is a crisis, voice changes are embarrassing and peer pressure is more powerful than a locomotive.

And they wiggle a lot. This is especially apparent when tweens enter middle school. For the first time in their lives, there is no recess at school. Wiggling is the only option when there are limited opportunities to burn off that energy.

Mari Jo Mulligan knows all of this and more. As the principal of Thunderbolt Middle School in Lake Havasu City, she has devoted 30 years of her life to educating children. Along the way, she forged a special talent for working with young adolescents.

“I fell in love with middle school,” and have been there ever since, she said.

Raised on a Nebraska farm – her dad grew corn – she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She earned her master’s from Northern Arizona University and obtained a subsequent endorsement in school counseling.

A student teaching job in 1985 brought Mulligan to Lake Havasu City. She taught second grade at Nautilus, where she continued teaching for six years. She then took a stab at big city life and moved to Phoenix for 10 years. She was an elementary school teacher there, and later, a behavior interventionist.

But then the budget cuts came. Mulligan stepped away from the teaching profession for a couple of years. While the new direction was interesting and fulfilling, it wasn’t enough.

“For two years, I worked as a community liaison for hospice and taught seminars. I learned that education was my calling because of the potential impact you can have on kids. I would find my passion in my classroom,” she said.

In 2002, Mulligan returned to Havasu and signed on once again with the Lake Havasu Unified School District. She has been principal at Thunderbolt for eight years. Previously, she was the principal at Nautilus for two years.

Family Husband of 29 years, Sean Mulligan. They look after their golden doodle, Ensign, who is 5.


Indianola, Nebraska.


Hiking. And Ragnar. I like to do things that take me out of my comfort zone. (A Ragnar Relay is approximately 200 miles long that typically lasts two days and one night.)

What was your best surprise?

This wasn’t a surprise for me, but the best surprise I have been a part of was surprising my niece at her wedding in Nebraska.

If you had a free weekend, what would you do with it?

Sean and I would go to our favorite place, which is Shell Beach in California. We’d take Ensign with us.

What’s your favorite way to unwind?

Reading. Or go for hike – I’d do something active.

What is your travel essential?

My iPad.

What’s one goal you still hope to achieve?

Professionally, after I retire, I hope to still do meaningful work. But personally, I’d like to skydive.

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

”When Harry Met Sally.”

What’s the best thing you’ve bought in the last six months?

A Four Things tote. Part of the money goes to charity.

What’s your most recent splurge?

I took four days (a couple of weeks ago) to go to Nebraska to see my mom for her 84th birthday.

If you could have an extraordinary talent or skill, what would you choose?

Cooking. I am not a good cook.

If you could change lives with anyone for a day, who would you like to be?

Author Brene Brown.

What’s the luckiest thing that ever happened to you?

I moved in next door to my now-husband. In 1987.

If you weren’t in your present career, what would you like to be?

I think it would have to be something that touches people in small ways that are actually big. Maybe with the Red Cross. I could wash clothes for people who were in a disaster.

What’s the craziest, most impulsive thing you’ve ever done that you can talk about?

My friend and I trained for a marathon. At mile 4, I broke my foot. But I finished the race. Looking back, I can’t believe I did that. (A marathon is 26.2 miles long.)

What song makes you want to dance?

”It’s a Miracle” by Barry Manilow.

What song makes you nostalgic?

”100 Years” by Five for Fighting. It makes me think of my dad.

What’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you?

I grew up on a farm. We had an outhouse until I was in second grade.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would that be?

Cindy McCain. I want to know what her life was like with John.

What was one of your early jobs?

I was a waitress all through high school and college.

What book is on your nightstand?

“Eat Cake. Be Brave.” Most people can be imagined as either a cat or a dog. Which are you? I hope I’m a dog. I’m always open, friendly and don’t make judgements.

What food can’t you live without?

Coffee. But that really isn’t food, is it?

What are your treasures?

My dad died 11 years ago. He would always sign off by saying “Love you much.” I have “Love you much” in his handwriting and on a keychain.

What’s your everyday accessory?

My Apple watch.