Unsung Hero: John Michael Nagy


One of the first things a 4-H club participant learns is that their projects will take an investment of time and money.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Show skills come in handy for Los Lunas High School school senior John Michael Nagy, displaying one of his prize goats. Nagy showed the grand champion goat at this year’s Valencia County Fair and donated the $700 prize money to the Wounded Warrior Project.

From leatherwork to raising farm stock, the investment comes with a lot of work and love.

That is why it was a big surprise when Los Lunas senior John Michael Nagy donated his complete $700 prize for a grand champion goat at the Valencia County Fair to the Wounded Warrior Project.

As his grandfather, Tom Nagy, said, “every last cent” was donated.

According to the website, www.woundedwarriorproject.org, “WWP’s purpose is to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured service members aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.”

While John Michael is in touch with the project’s main idea, it was the service of both of his grandfathers in the Vietnam War that has turned his heart toward the needs of military returnees from war zones.

“He is real close to both of his grandpas,” said Tom, with a knowing glance to his grandson. “You might be able to tell that.”

The younger Nagy thanked his grandfathers for their service and acknowledged that none of his family would have what they have if it were not for their sacrifices.

“I have always had a heart for our nation’s heroes. Both of my grandpas were in Vietnam,” said John Michael. “This is just one way that I saw that I could support the men and women that are fighting for our country.”

John Michael made the decision early to donate if he won at the county fair.

“My sister won it last year,” he said. “I definitely didn’t think I would win grand champion. I thought I would make the sale. I didn’t expect to do this well.

“I hope it can help somebody that risked everything for our country. I hope that it not only helps them, but shows that this nation appreciates everything that they have done.”

For a young man still in high school, John Michael is exceptionally focused on what he wants to do with his life.

And he has had some help in formulating that plan.

Dr. Ralph Zimmerman, the lead veterinarian at Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Zoo, has known the youngster since his mom, Sylvia, brought a dog in to him. He spotted John Michael’s interest in animals right away.

“He goes to work with me on the weekend,” said Zimmerman. “He shadows me at the zoo. He helps the keepers. He really is up for doing everything that needs doing.”

John Michael’s experience with Zimmerman has fueled the future vet’s love for large animals.

“He had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do, and I supported it as best as I could,” said Zimmerman.

“We did an ultra-sound on a gorilla,” John Michael said, beaming. “I have gotten to see all of the animal at the zoo, but on a totally different level.

“Once you get close to a large animal like that, you realize just how huge they are,” he said. “I mean when you are three feet from a rhino, it is an amazing thing. It gets your heart pumping. It is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do.”

John Michael fondly recalls his first visit to the male gorilla, named Marcus, at the zoo.

“Any time he sees a new person walk into the primate barn, he will run as fast as he can and slam into the barn wall. It is metal and it is loud,” Nagy said. “You jump because it is so loud and he is so fast.”

He has gained experience with a wide range of animals at the zoo.

“I have gotten to hold koalas and stuff like that. Being within inches of the lions and tigers, well it is scary,” he said. “Even though there is a fence there, just being that close is awesome.”

Zimmerman appreciates the boy’s deep commitment to helping the animals.

“He has gotten a great look at it with what we do at the zoo and with the horses here,” said the vet. “I haven’t managed to scare him off. He is smart enough and tough enough to hang in there.”

“Our country historically, especially recently, has had too few heroes. There is not enough focus on the younger generation and that we do have hope,” said grandpa Tom of John Michael’s being chosen as an Unsung Hero.

“He is a pretty class act and I thought it was a pretty cool thing to do. I thought he should get recognition for it, even though he did not want any recognition.”

His dad, Michael Nagy, remembers some other things about his son, too.

“He went through the teenage years where he was a willful child,” said Michael.

The father’s pride in his son came from his wanting to make the Wounded Warrior donation on his own.

“The biggest thing for me is that there was no coaxing from us on this,” Michael said of his son. “We didn’t say that he should donate. It all came from him. That was the coolest thing.”

Zimmerman thought the donation was typical of John Michael.

“I wasn’t surprised because that is the kind of kid he is,” Zimmerman said. “He is thinking of others instead of thinking about himself.”

The experienced vet continued with his insight into John Michael’s character.

“A kid that shows the interest, has got the smarts, is enthusiastic, has a work ethic — it is hard to come by a kid with that combination.

He was just so gung-ho about everything, it is hard not to pick up that enthusiasm right along with him,” Zimmerman said.

His grandfather Tom noted that John Michael’s compassion came early in his life. He tells a story of his grandson when he was 10 and a 2-week old colt fell into a ditch filled with grime, mud and slime.

“The colt panicked and was thrashing about trying to get out and John Michael and I jumped in to try to rescue it.”

After struggling to lift the colt and getting very beaten and kicked, his grandpa recalled that “he looked over at me with a huge grin and said, ‘We did it Grandpa!’”

His grandpa summed up that caring courage.

“He had no regard for himself at all. There was a job to be done and he did it,” he said. “There wasn’t one ounce of quit in the boy then and it’s carried through to today.”

John Michael made his campus visit to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces earlier this month.

He plans on attending NMSU next fall, mostly because they have the only veterinarian training program in the state that has live animals on campus.

“I am looking forward to being on campus and being able to work with the animals,” he said, sitting next to his father in his cherry red Lobo shirt.

“It has caused some tension,” said Michael. “I promised not to wear it on his college visit.”

In addition to his studies and his work around his grandpa’s place with the goats, John Michael is president of the Los Lunas High School Drama Club.

He played the lead role in “Get Smart” and will likely star in three other productions and direct the final presentation of the year.

He explained with a smile that his goal was “just to get through it.”

But, he got a little serious in his continued explanation.

“It is just that I need to keep up with my work,” John Michael said. “Those school things and keeping up with our animals will keep me pretty busy.”

When informed he was name an Unsung Hero, John Michael was hesitant to talk about it. He asked for some things to be made clear in his interview.

“I don’t want this to be about me,” said the affable young man. “I want it to be about that Jesus gave this opportunity and that there are men and women who risk there life every day to protect this country.”

His dad noted that it might give others an idea of how to help.

“Maybe it will plant a seed with other kids that will get a grassroots effort going on. Maybe it will spread that way, too,” John Michael agreed.

“This isn’t about me. It is about the men and women who risk their lives for my freedom. That is how I keep it off of myself,” he said.

The high school senior noted that if he can be a hero, then anyone can.

“Everyone has that one thing that they are truly passionate about. Whatever your passion, you can turn that into something good for someone else,” he said, suggesting that athletes can even run in Susan G. Komen races to raise money for cancer research.

“There are all of these things out there,” he said. “You can find them.”

-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.