Ernie Mansueti reserves high praise for the countless individuals and organizations he’s worked with closely during his 39-year career in a variety of capacities within the Cowichan Valley. The feeling is mutual.
Mansueti, 57, officially retired Friday as the General Manager of Community Services for the Municipality of North Cowichan, a position he held since 2018. He started with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, primarily at Cowichan Arena, in 1981 on skate patrol while attending Malaspina College, the predecessor to Vancouver Island University, before working his way up the ranks.
Mansueti was a sports/recreation programmer at Cowichan Arena for 13 years from 1981 to 1994, served as interim manager at Kerry Park Recreation Centre for four months and then got the job as facilities manager with the Municipality at Fuller Lake Arena.
He assumed the title of Parks & Recreation Director in 2002 before taking on the G.M. of Community Services role.
A special gathering was held at the Municipal Hall for Mansueti Thursday with a limited number of people in attendance at any one time amid COVID-19 restrictions. A community event, had one been possible, would surely have attracted a large crowd.
It would be hard to find many people from one end of the Municipality to the other who haven’t had some involvement with Mansueti or know him through his considerable activities.
He just considers himself fortunate to have worked with and for so many great people within the community he loves so much that’s always showed in his work.
“I think we live in one of the best places on Earth,” said Mansueti. “For me, to be born and raised here and work in my community, I think I’ve really been blessed.”
He’s worked in North Cowichan during the tenures of five mayors – Rex Hollett, Anne Murray, Tom Walker, Jon Lefebure and Al Siebring – and developed a strong working relationship with staff. He considers former Administrator Jim Dias as one of his mentors and a great friend.
Dias has fond memories of working alongside Mansueti and the two remain close today.
“Just such a great guy to work with, so dedicated to community,” praised Dias. “He always seemed to have the community forefront on his mind, mostly calm about everything – never seemed to get flustered.”
When Mansueti was first hired, “he had tremendous potential and I think he achieved that potential,” said Dias. “When you look around the community, you see all the things he engaged with. He didn’t seem to favour one part of the Municipality. He supported all areas.”
One of the major projects undertaken by Mansueti, said Dias, was the installation of the new floor at Fuller Lake Arena and expansion in the early ’90s.
“He put his personal stamp on the arena in terms of its maintenance, cleanliness and how it was run,” noted Dias. “I was so happy how things turned out there.”
Fuller Lake Arena was always a source of great pride for Mansueti since he spent a lot of time there as a youth watching Junior B hockey games and events occurred there like all-star wrestling, a Trooper concert and jam-packed public skating sessions during its heyday.
The chance to run the facility was a dream come true.
Mansueti said he’s pleased “just how the building looks today and how it’s been able to keep up with the times. The quality of the ice since Day 1 has always been revered here.”
Specific projects are impossible to mention because there are so many that have Mansueti’s stamp on them.
In the Chemainus-Crofton area, there’s the purchase of 83 acres at Chemainus Lake in 1999 with half put into forest reserve and half into the park. “It’s been fantastic for the community,” Mansueti said.
There’s also been Wul’aam (Echo) Park and great affiliations with Larry Hopwo and the Chemainus Baseball Association, Fuller Lake and Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey through Kathy Irving, Chemainus Communities In Bloom, Cowichan Neighbourhood House, ardent volunteer Deb Melnyk and the Crofton Community Centre Society, among others.
“They phone me and say, ‘Ernie’, how can we work together and get this done,” he said of the latter group. “Money’s always been an obstacle at times, but we found a way to make it work.”
In the South End, there’s been his long connection with Bill Keserich and the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association, the McKinlay family and Duncan Junior Baseball, the whole Cowichan Place reconfiguration with Pioneer Park and the Cowichan Exhibition, creation of Evans Park and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The establishment of the North Cowichan/Duncan Sports Wall of Fame was a project Mansueti had considered long before it happened. “We didn’t feel comfortable where we were going to locate it,” he pointed out.
That was solved with the opening of the Cowichan Aquatic Centre and the plaques of honoured athletes, builders and teams are proudly displayed there.
Mansueti never felt more pride than during the opening ceremony parade for the 2008 North American Indigenous Games in the Cowichan Valley.
“It was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in our community,” he enthused.
The various BC Games, and BC Senior Games also brought significant attention to the area and Mansueti was involved in all of those.
But now it’s time to kick back and enjoy more time with family and perhaps do some volunteering with organizations like KidSport that he believes in strongly. KidSport is playing an increasingly larger role under the direction of chair Deb Savory.
“I’m gonna learn how to let go,” said Mansueti as he looks ahead to the future. “Really just taking some time off and reevaluating where we’re going.”
Wife Denise is still working at Maple Bay Elementary and they’ll keep busy with son Eric, daughter Anne and granddaughter Giovanna, who’s two years old.
Ironically, Mansueti has other colleagues retiring at the same time. Laurel Whyte’s last day is Friday, July 3 and Fred Kilner retired May 29. Whyte and Kilner were both hired fulltime by Mansueti in the same year, 1994.
The last words about Mansueti go to Dias.
“He created great community relations,” he said. “People respected him.”