Arnold Mackley remembered for fair approach to post-oil shale Garfield County government; former commissioner died May 27 at age 88 |

Arnold Mackley remembered for fair approach to post-oil shale Garfield County government; former commissioner died May 27 at age 88

Arnold Mackley, shown here in this 2013 Citizen Telegram/Post Independent file photo, at work on the oil shale research and development front.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson has two distinct memories of one of his political predecessors, Arnold Mackley.

Mackley died May 27 after a battle with cancer. He was 88. A full obituary appears in the Wednesday, June 15, Post Independent on page 13, and online.

Samson was a young boy when he first came to know Mackley and his wife Darleen (Bernclau), and he would later go on to teach the Mackleys’ children at Rifle High School.

When Mackley, a longtime oil shale industry worker and advocate up until his retirement only four years ago at age 84, decided to run for county commissioner in 1988, he tapped Samson to put his name up for nomination at the county Republican’s assembly that spring.

“I said, ‘Mr. Mackley’ — I was a young man at the time — ‘I would be more than happy to do that,’” Samson recalled. “One of the last things I remember saying in that nomination speech was, ‘I don’t know who the Democrats will nominate, but I do know this: Arnold Mackley will be our next county commissioner.”

Mackley won that year’s election over Democrat J.B. VanTeylingen, who happened to be a Rifle High School classmate of Samson’s.

Mackley would go on to serve eight years on the Board of County Commissioners alongside Marian Smith, the county’s first female county commissioner, and the late Buckey Arbaney.

During those years, from 1988 to 1996, Garfield County was still coming out of the economic slump stemming from the oil shale bust of 1982 when Exxon Energy pulled out of its Colony Oil Shale Project in the Piceance Basin.

It was a tug-of-war between unprecedented residential and population growth in the county, including the development of upscale neighborhoods such as Aspen Glen, along with proposals to reopen old coal mines, build power plants and facilitate the growing natural gas industry.

“I thought he was a pretty good county commissioner,” said the former longtime chairman of the Garfield County Democrats, Ed Sands of Rifle.

He acknowledged that political disagreements in those days were not nearly as contentious as they are today.

“He was very fair and balanced things pretty well with the oil and gas industry starting to hit us at the time,” Sands said of Mackley.

Samson’s second memory of Mackley is when he himself began toying with the idea of running for county commissioner in 2008.

“There were maybe about five people I reached out to as I was making that decision, and two of them were Arnold Mackley and Marian Smith,” Samson said. “I went to Arnold’s house, and we sat at the table and talked for hours. He very strongly encouraged me to do it, and taught me a lot of things right then and during that campaign.”

He also remembered Mackley as one of the preeminent experts when it came to oil shale research.

Born in Clifton, Mackley was part of the first class to graduate from Central High School, attended Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University), and he went on to serve in the U.S. Navy. After his discharge, he got in on the front end of the oil shale industry, working for several different companies on the research and development end of things, concluding his career with AMSO LLC, American Shale Oil.

“I was laying on the couch, and my mother was looking at the help wanted ads, trying to find me a job,” Mackley recalled in a 2013 interview with the Citizen Telegram newspaper.

One of those jobs was as an accountant/warehouseman in Parachute for Stearns Roger Corp. He got the job, which brought him to Rifle, where he would meet his future wife, Darleen. Together, they would eventually raise three children, daughters Darla and Diane and son Ryan.

Darleen and Arnold Mackley with their grandson, Ethan, during the 2019 Rifle High School football season.
Facebook photo

“Arnold was the driving force for oil shale for a lot of years,” Samson said. “He believed in it, and when I think of all the hard work and sweat equity that went into trying to make that a reality, Arnold Mackley comes to mind.

“He was also a great mentor to me, and gave me a lot of good advice,” Samson said.

In addition to his work in the energy industry and politics, Mackley also worked the family ranch, was a member of the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association, and was an avid supporter of the Garfield County Fair and the New Ute Theatre Society and Event Center in Rifle.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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