Thirteen years later, the Sarasota businessman remains amazed at their ability and spirit.
Those children, supervised by the nonprofit Lighthouse of Manasota, have inspired him so many years later to make a unique donation to continue the nonprofit work that leads the blind and visually impaired to independence.
This spring, Mansfield will put his one-of-a-kind RennTech Chrome Mercedes SL600 to auction and donate all proceeds from the sale to the Lighthouse of Manasota and the Southeastern Guide Dogs program.
Mansfield, 62, would not give a full estimate of the car’s value so as not to help set its price at the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach Collector Car Auction.
But as a clue, the flashy chrome finish on the car cost $200,000 alone.
The three-day auction begins April 5 at the South Florida Fairgrounds, at 9067 Southern Boulevards in West Palm Beach.
Southeastern Guide Dogs, which provides free services to recipients, is excited to see what the car will draw at auction, spokeswoman Jennifer Bement said.
“It costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000 to put together and provide lifetime support to a single guide dog team,” she said. “Such a sizable donation would certainly allow us to give the gift of independence and mobility to many.”
Lighthouse of Manasota Executive Director Janice Felski said the donation would help greatly in this time when nearly every funding source is waning.
“It means we can continue to do what we’re supposed to be doing,” she said.
Mansfield — the owner of four companies, including Sarasota Precision Engineering — bought the car about four years ago to add to his car collection.
He also has a 789 Chevy Corvette by n2a Motors, which stands for “no 2 alike,” and a 1959 Lotus he recently purchased from Wisconsin.
The chrome Mercedes has a 650-horsepower twin turbo engine that powers it to speeds over 200 mph. The finish and other luxury touches, like massage and temperature-controlled chairs, were done in Germany by RennTech.
“I’ve only driven it a few times,” he said. “If it was ever damaged it would have to go to Germany to be repaired.”
He also cannot drive anywhere in the car without leaving its side. Last time he did, going out for a cup of coffee, he returned to find uninvited people inside the car posing for pictures.
Several people have offered to buy the car off Mansfield but he refused.
“I realized I’d rather the kids and the veterans have the money than me have the car or the money,” he said.