He’s a public figure, and a big picture of him hangs on the wall at the county building, but many people might not know that DeSoto County Commissioner and Arcadia rodeo director “Buddy” Mansfield was a part of the Exxon Valdez cleanup effort.
In fact, during his 22-year Coast Guard career, Juril Mansfield (who shares his dad’s unique name, invented by his grandmother) specialized in oil pollution and hazardous material response. “I’ve probably done 100 to 150 oil spills,” Mansfield remarked, telling stories of flying out to the Exxon Valdez on a helicopter or float plane every day and the “logistical nightmare” of working with the terrain, the sea conditions, and the lack of civilization characterized by the clean up effort in frigid Alaskan waters. During his Coast Guard time, Mansfield pumped off oil carriers, floated skimmer barriers to contain oil slicks and even used oil-eating organisms to clean up disasters.
“I loved it. I loved my career,” said Mansfield, whose nickname, “Buddy,” came from his mother.
But before joining the armed forces, the Arcadia native was just like a lot of kids who grew up in the area. He was the son of a cowboy and the grandson of a cowboy. “The only thing I knew before I was 18 years old was looking at a cow’s rear end,” he joked. His grandfather was always called “Coon Mansfield,” the jovial commissioner recalled, adding, “I didn’t know my grandpa had a first name.”
He was 18 when he joined the armed forces, and after retiring 22 years later as a chief warrant officer, Mansfield worked construction for awhile. His father broke his neck in a hayride accident, and while Mansfield was home helping out, his dad gave him the idea of purchasing a local quail business that was for sale.
“I sold between 60,000 and 80,000 birds a year,” said Mansfield, who serviced seven different shooting preserves. “It was something that was different. It was fun. I met a lot of nice people,” he said. Unfortunately, after cleaning up so many disasters, a disaster of a different sort put him out of business. “I had better than 20,000 birds in flight pens the year Hurricane Charley hit,” Mansfield said grimly.
He now owns an emergency medical transport company with his mother and his wife, Sandy, and works about 30 hours a week as a commissioner. At 58, he’s the proud dad of three grown children from his first marriage, step-dad of two more grown children, and has one child with his wife - a 13-year-old son, Tyler, whom he called “my buddy.”
Mansfield is also well known for his deep involvement with the Arcadia All Florida Championship Rodeo, held the second weekend in March. A director at the rodeo for over seven years, Mansfield called the event “an anchor” to the community and “an economic engine.”
“You will not see a better rodeo unless you go to the national finals in Las Vegas,” he assured. There is also the annual youth rodeo, which he described as “one of the largest east of the Mississippi River” with as many as 330 contestants. Mansfield is in charge of the building, the grounds and the maintenance, and he said they are fundraising in the hopes of eventually moving to a larger location.
As a commissioner he’d like to see more economic drivers like the rodeo to bring people to Arcadia, including some industry to give local kids something to come back to after they finish their studies. “For a county to survive, you’ve got to have diversity,” he said. He’s also part of the movement to resurrect some of the old Florida feel captured in the photos of Arcadia hanging in the hallways of the county building; they’ve brought back the original style lamp posts and re-planted palm trees along main strip downtown.
“I can’t relax,” said the veteran, who likes to keep busy and is quick with a grin. “There are a lot of good people here, hardworking people,” he said of his constituents. As a commissioner, he said, “I’m still having fun.”