Howard Mankins’ view of public service could be summed up in a quote he gave to a then-Telegram-Tribune reporter in an interview in 1982, after he’d just been named chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
“Everybody ought to serve his fellow man in some way,” he said at the time. “Everybody ought to be a participant. That’s what made us great Americans. The pioneers didn’t have any slackers.”
Mankins, 86, died Sunday after suffering a stroke a few days earlier. The former county supervisor, hardware store owner and community philanthropist was active, sharp and civic-minded until the day of his death, his son said.
As Blair Mankins said Tuesday, “How could he sit down and watch TV when there was so much to do?”
Howard Mankins and his twin brother, Harold, were born March 30, 1927, in Los Berros and grew up on the family ranch in Huasna Valley. He attended a one-room schoolhouse in Huasna and Arroyo Grande High before being drafted into the Army.
Mankins’ uncle, Leo Brisco, was on the draft board at the time.
“His uncle came to my grandfather and said, ‘Well, one of the twins can stay and one has to go,’ ” Blair Mankins said. “My grandfather said, ‘They both go, or they both stay.’ So they were both definitely going.”
The brothers served as part of the U.S. occupying forces in Korea from 1945 to 1947, an experience that opened the naïve farmboy’s eyes to the world, his son said.
After his return, Howard Mankins went back to school, and later he and his brother purchased Brisco’s Mill and Lumber (now Brisco’s True Value Hardware and Lumber Yard) from their uncle.
His two sons, Blair and Mark, bought into the business in 1990. More recently, the hardware store served as Howard Mankins’ “base for all the other operations he had in the community,” Blair Mankins said.
“He wanted to give back to the community and he showed it by many avenues,” he added.
Over the years, the octogenarian served three terms as a county supervisor, from 1971 to 1983, followed a few years later by a two-year term as Arroyo Grande mayor.
Howard Mankins was still a member of the county’s Pension Trust board, to which he was appointed in 1971 as a freshman county supervisor.
“He used to say to me, ‘I think they’re punishing me,’ ” Pension Trust Executive Secretary Tony Petruzzi recalled. “But he loved the idea of working with the pension trust because he loved dealing with the investment end of it.
“He was a delight to work with,” Petruzzi added. “If I were to describe my idea of a great public servant, it would be Howard Mankins.”
Mankins’ first priority was his family, he said during a 2001 interview with former Tribune Publisher Harold Higgins. But he also took great joy in seeing buildings, programs, groups and people developed, such as a scholarship program started for high school students.
“If you were willing to help yourself, he was willing to help you,” Blair Mankins said.
Howard Mankins was also active in the Mormon Church — serving as bishop for a total of 11 years — as well as the South County Historical Society and the Boy Scouts. His family donated more than $100,000 in money, material and labor to help convert the IOOF Lodge in Arroyo Grande to a museum.
“Howard was an icon within the community, a successful businessman, a dedicated family man and a true example of the best kind of public servant,” said state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, a former county supervisor. “He always took it upon himself to lead by example and many, including myself, were fortunate to have learned from his leadership.”
Howard Mankins is survived by his sons, his wife, Aileen, and eight grandchildren as well as many nieces and nephews. A public church service will start at 10 a.m. Friday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 751 S. Traffic Way, followed by a graveside service at noon at Arroyo Grande Cemetery, 895 El Camino Real.