By Eleanor Ruffes
David Van Cleef, painter and owner of The Van Cleef Company, has lived in Mandarin for 20 years with Linda, “the love of his life.” His father was movie actor Lee Van Cleef, who played the bad guy in westerns in the 1960s such as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” and “For a Few Dollars More.”
Q: You come from an exceptional set of parents. What of their accomplishments are you most proud of?
Mother was retired with the US Forest Service; she worked at the main office on campus at University of Georgia. She was pretty cool actually. If I’m not mistaken, she told me that she was the first lady ever elected national secretary of the year. This is what I remember growing up. In the ‘60s they first started that. Man, that lady could type! Later she was a librarian in Madison, Ohio and then a pet sitter. She’s always worked.
Dad was a movie actor [Lee Van Cleef] known for roles in spaghetti westerns. I’m very proud of who my dad was and what he accomplished. But I’m no more proud than anyone else is of their dad. But I do have an advantage over other people because sometimes I flip the TV on and get to be like “Hey Dad!” even though he’s gone. I’m just proud as a peacock of both of them.
Q: You have been painting on and off for over 35 years. What do you love most about the job?
It’s the customers. Especially in Mandarin — a lot of them are just cool. They’re easy to talk to. They’re honest. They look you in the eye. They tell you like it is. It’s easy to work for them and that makes my job easier. If I do my job right and keep the job clean, they’re happy. Currently, 100 percent of my business is referrals, I don’t advertise. My business is all about relationships and that’s why I will never stop working. I love it.
Q: Can you recall a specific moment when you could see and feel the support of this community around you?
Yes. I like to say that the gal that cuts my hair was like a spider web. I walked into a hair place one day, I had gotten off work early, and we got to talking. One thing led to another and the lady that owns the place asked me to do a job for her. It all spiderwebbed from there. That one little haircut ended up turning into five customers at least; and they are now good friends of mine.
Q: You have lived all over the country, from the East to West Coast and in between. You began painting exclusively in 1981, when you moved to Jacksonville. What were you up to before that time?
In California, I helped a Swedish man start an industrial chemical company and I was the operations manager. I would also paint apartments with my friend on the side. That was when I started painting residential units. Then, on my way back East, I took an odd job on the Mississippi River. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I worked on a push boat moving chemical and gasoline barges. It was definitely an experience. I worked on the boats with true Cajuns. I had to pay real close attention to the language because it’s like broken French. But they are the most wonderful people; if they liked you they’d do anything in the world for you. That was a real different job. Six hours on, six hours off. Every day, seven days a week. Then they moved me to the operations side where I was like a dispatcher. After that, I moved here to Jacksonville to be closer to my brother.
Q: Lastly, what advice can you give people about hiring a professional painter?
Check referrals. Knowing they’ve got people that they’ve worked for that are happy and are going to call them back is important. Also, that person is going to be in your house near your family and all your things. You want to know you can trust them. Liking the person helps. Check that they’re insured, although most of us are. Be wary of the person that asks for money up front; I don’t like that. Halfway through the job is understandable but 95 percent of the time I tell customers to pay me when I’m done.
Photo courtesy Eleanor Ruffes
Dave Van Cleef