Mike Caplin was in the upper chamber of the local State Capitol, telling elementary students about the brief period Benicia was the seat of state government. One boy’s hand shot up and he earnestly asked Mike, “Were you here when all these things were happening?”
Mike chuckles at the memory, one of many from his time volunteering with Benicia non-profit organizations. Many of his favorites involve spending time with children—but that’s not always the case. Judging the Main Street Halloween costume contest is tough, he says.
“I enjoy that, but it’s a lot of pressure. You have all these cute kids in these great costumes. I’m glad there are other judges.”
Mike volunteers with Benicia Main Street, Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns, the city Tourism Committee, and the Benicia State Parks Association. He served on the Benicia Human Services board off and on for 16 years before leaving the board this fall. Mike’s dedication earned him the city’s Volunteer of the Year award in 2015.
Mike’s volunteer activities have their roots in his career in the travel industry and his love of Benicia. “Don’t we all love Benicia?” he asks.
Mike spent 45 years in the travel industry, starting as a travel agent and working his way up to executive positions with AAA and with a consortium of small- to medium-sized travel agencies. In addition to his many volunteer posts in town, Mike is executive director of the international Skal organization’s San Francisco club. “It’s the closest thing the travel industry has to the Rotary Club,” he explains.
Mike is praised by those who work with him. “He is always the first to sign up to help, and he always follows through,” says Nancy Martinez, executive director of Benicia Main Street. “He’s low-key, charming, and he has quite a lot of stories from his years in the travel industry. He’s a great ambassador for Benicia and Benicia Main Street. I have so much respect for the man.”
Mike, 72, moved to Benicia in 1982 with his wife, Kris.
How do you select the organizations you work with? Certainly in the case of tourism, it was a natural fit.
If I hear of an organization that I’m interested in, I’ll read about it and see if I can do something to help. Sometimes the organization picks me—like the museum and Main Street. With Human Services, it was about helping the needy, helping the less fortunate in Benicia.
What parts of your volunteer work do you enjoy the most? I love doing school tours at the museum. It’s usually third-or fourth-graders. The children are well behaved in general and have very good questions.
We meet downstairs and I lead them upstairs. There was a third-grade girl on recent tour and when we got to the top of the stairs, her eyes just opened up and she said, “I love museums.” She was just in awe. It almost brought tears to my eyes.
With the Tourism Committee, I enjoy helping host travel writers and giving them tours of Benicia.With Main Street, I love the festivals and parades. I was a volunteer at all of those before I joined the board. I like to do the pours at the wine walks and the brew crawl and talk to people about Benicia. I was thrilled when Nancy (Martinez) asked me to join the board.
With Human Services, my time as liaison to the Child Assault Prevention Program was my favorite part. They work on anti-bullying programs with young children. I also like serving at the community Thanksgiving meal that the CAC (Community Action Council) puts on every year.
But the best is certainly the school tours, both at the museum and the capitol.
How many hours a week do you volunteer? It varies. Maybe two days a week, so 12 to 16 hours a week if you include the board meetings and committee meetings.
What motivates you to volunteer? When you’re fully retired, it’s important to keep busy. I’m going to be 73 in January, and I have all the aches and pains that go with being that age. Keeping busy keeps me from focusing on all those aches and pains, and I like the people I work with.
Where is your favorite place to travel? We love going to France, and Normandy is our favorite region—I’m a World War II buff. Also, this isn’t the primary reason we like going there, but I can get by in French. I’m not fluent, but I studied it in high school. We love Paris—how can you not love Paris?
We also love Italy. That would have to be our second favorite. One time we rented a farmhouse in Tuscany on a hillside and at the base of the mountain was a little village. We could see the lights come up in the evenings and hear the church bells while we had wine on the patio.
What celebrities have you encountered in your travels? When you travel a lot, you see famous people. We bumped into Cher at a train station in Paris, and my daughter went up to talk to her.
We met Dan Rather at the Houston airport.
What do you do to relax? Certainly baseball—I’ve been an Oakland A’s season ticket holder for 28, 29 years. In 2007, when I was 63, I went to Oakland A’s fantasy camp. We go to 25 games every year. We even went to a couple of Giants games this year as well.
I enjoy cooking a little bit and entertaining. We like to drive up to Napa.
What’s next for you? We haven’t gone on any major trips in a long time. It’s time to start doing more travel again, even some road travel. We’ve talked often about driving up the entire Pacific Northwest.
We’re hoping to go back to France next year, maybe combine the trip with a river cruise. We want to take some cruises, but not on a mega-ship. We’d like to do some small-ship cruising.
I want to get more involved with my granddaughter. She’s 19 and goes to Sac State on a golf scholarship. I’m very proud of her. She has her sights set on the LPGA.