Neil Banfield – GEMS of Fort Bend

300-neilBy Patti Parish-Kaminski –

If you have attended a fundraising event in Fort Bend County over the past 40 years, you have likely met a dapper, quick-witted young man and his bride who are known for their generous spirit, kindness and just plain willingness to help. And if you’re lucky enough to get to know this GEM of Fort Bend who is a true Boy Scout, you’ll realize that his heart is as big as the thousands of acres he farmed most of his life.

Born in El Campo, Neil Banfield moved to Fort Bend County near Fairchild in the 1930s with his family. His father and grandfather were rice farmers with crops both in Fort Bend and Arkansas. “Farming is hard work,” said Banfield. “My dad always told me to be honest and to have a strong work ethic. He told my brother and me that we had to work to get anywhere and to save a little bit if you’re ever going to get anywhere in life.”

As a young man, Banfield attended school in Rosenberg when they moved to Mulchy Street during elementary school. “I walked to Robert E. Lee Elementary School every day, a block and half from the house,” recalled Banfield. Little did he know that he would return to walk those halls and be involved with this school as an adult.

In high school, Banfield met a young woman from Needville who changed his life. “Carolyn had a choice to go to Rosenberg or Richmond High School,” said Banfield. “Her brothers and sisters went to Richmond, and Carolyn went to Rosenberg. That’s where I met her – in class. I used to tell her that she always looked good walking down the aisle in the classroom.  The teacher would ask her to come up and do something on the blackboard, and I always paid attention. Most of the time she wore pleated skirts, and she looked good so I told her so.”

“If I hadn’t chosen to go to high school in Rosenberg, I never would have known Neil,” said Carolyn. “Now wasn’t that a stroke of luck!”

While the two knew each other during high school, they didn’t date seriously until Banfield returned home from serving for four years in the Air Force. The two began dating, and in 1946, Carolyn’s father married them in Needville.

The Banfield’s began their married life living in the Banfield family home in Rosenberg, and soon, they built their own house next door. Neil began farming rice, and Carolyn devoted her time to raising their five children.

Through hard work and determination, Banfield achieved much success as a rice farmer, farming nearly 800 acres of rice in Fort Bend. He expanded his operation to include a soybean crop on 1,500 acres in Southeast Arkansas overseen by his brother, and as any gentleman farmer would do, he also “fed a few cattle.”

Banfield became a member of the Rice Council and served as a director of the American Rice Growers Association, Richmond Division and as an officer of the Richmond Irrigation Company. The company provided a massive rice canal irrigation network that fed water to the rice fields, and area rice farmer Jack Wendt served as president with Banfield serving as an officer in the enterprise. “Jack counted on Neil as an officer of the company,” said Billie Wendt, wife of the late Jack Wendt. “Neil was always there for Jack, and my husband counted on Neil to help make decisions for the future of the company. They had a great friendship and partnership that helped them both be successful.”

As a young man, Banfield was a Boy Scout earning the highest rank of Eagle Scout. As he achieved success at a career in farming, the lessons he learned as a Scout served him well. “I started out in Scouts in 1938, and I enjoyed every bit of it,” said Banfield. “It was a great learning experience for me, and the lessons I learned – being prepared, working hard and doing my best – helped me be successful.”

And since 1938, Banfield has supported the Scouts, an organization that remains close to his heart. And this Eagle Scout, who is the oldest living Eagle Scout in Fort Bend County, still supports the organization he loves. “I send the Scouts a check every year to help the program continue to grow. They do great work, and they help lots of kids. The kids are the ones who need help and guidance, and Scouts does a great job. I will be interested in helping Boy Scouts forever; I don’t think that will ever change.”

Banfield’s passion for helping youth brought him back to the Lamar Consolidated ISD where he was educated as a boy. From 1957 to 1969, he was elected to serve on the district’s Board of Trustees, and as an advisory board member of Lamar Educational Awards Foundation (L.E.A.F.), he found himself back in the schools that educated him. “L.E.A.F. is a wonderful organization, and they help lots of children and their teachers. I am proud to support anything that helps educate our children.”

Banfield has lent his leadership skills to community organizations throughout the years, and he’s lent his impressive culinary skills as well. For five years, he served as the head cook for L.E.A.F.’s annual fish fry, and for nearly 20 years, he fried fish at O.D. and Donna Kay Tucker’s farm to help raise money for the Boy Scouts. “The fish fries are a good way to make money, and it was easy for me to do – right up my alley – so I enjoyed doing them.” He may no longer serve as the head cook, but Banfield still attends L.E.A.F.’s annual fish fry. “I go to wish them well, and cheer them on.”

While two of his daughters were in the Lamar High School Choir, the Banfields cooked and sold hamburgers every year at the Fort Bend County Fair. “We spent many hours selling hamburgers,” recalled Carolyn. “Neil and I would be there cooking hamburgers until one or two in the morning on a Saturday night, and we’d have to go home and bathe to get the hamburger smell off of us before church the next morning.”

Banfield has devoted a great deal of his time and talents to another organization close to his heart, The Rosenberg Railroad Museum. “I spent a lot of time over there planning and landscaping,” said Banfield. “Every living thing over there I planted at some time or another.” The Museum currently has a garden dedicated to Banfield that features his name.

The Banfield’s have been honored by many organizations in Fort Bend for their steadfast support including the Fort Bend Museum, of which they are members, Fort Bend Seniors, Casa de Esperanza, the Rosenberg Masonic Lodge #881 and in 2008, they were named Honorees for the Fort Bend County Fair.

“I’ve always been for helping the community,” said Banfield. “Helping somebody get along and make a better life for themself is something we should do.” And today, with his five children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Banfield continues to help individuals have a better life. For his willingness to serve and help individuals make better lives for themselves, absolutely! Brazos and Fort Bend Focus Magazines are proud to honor Neil Banfield as a GEM of Fort Bend.