Celebration of Life: Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan Remembered

Mon. February 24th, 2020
- by Robert Lambert     

LOS ALAMITOS, CA - Frieda’s positivity, and her innate ability to never see obstacles, is what inspires me so much to this day. Even though Frieda has passed, I find comfort in the idea that I can carry her gifts with me as I move through this life—my tribute to her.

This past Saturday, I could feel Frieda’s presence in the room as we gathered to honor her life. As a rare presence in my own life as well, Frieda was gracious, magnetic, and generous and—by luck or fortune—one of the first people to truly welcome me into the industry and her family fold. Greeting her on the showroom floor was a true gift and learning from her an even greater one. You could not help but become emotionally tied to such an amazing soul; I will honor her on a personal level as a friend and on a professional level as an advocate for all that she has done.

Karen Caplan, President and CEO, Frieda’s Specialty Produce“Mom led an amazing life of more than 96 years, and she has inspired women and men to be the best version of themselves,” Karen Caplan, Frieda’s daughter as well as President and CEO of Frieda’s Specialty Produce, told me. “We are so fortunate that we have a documentary film, FEAR NO FRUIT, made in 2014 about Frieda and the company. We were able to show the final act of the film at the Celebration of Life so that attendees could hear in her own words how she inspired students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when she received her Honorary PhD, saying, ‘Never badmouth others. Always listen to the whole story. Be a voice in the community. Be politically active, vote, speak up.’”

President and CEO and Frieda's daughter Karen Caplan shared memories of her mother with friends, family, and industry members on February 22, 2020, at a celebration of the life for the visionary, mother, grandmother, and friend—Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, Founder of Frieda's Specialty Produce

Frieda’s daughter and Vice President and COO of the company, Jackie Caplan Wiggins, shared that it was amazing to see both the turnout and the love.

Jackie Caplan Wiggins, Vice President and COO, Frieda’s Specialty Produce“More than 1,000 friends, family, and industry members (including growers and clients) gathered on Saturday morning to pay tribute to our mom,” Jackie shared. “The common theme by the seventeen speakers was her incredible ability to make the person she was with feel like the most important person in the room.”

As I gathered my thoughts from the weekend, our team spoke with some of our industry friends who shared their reflections with us here, as we hold open the space for her legacy to grow and her impact to be remembered.

Tonya Antle, Co-Founder and EVP, Organic Produce Network“The celebration of life for Frieda was truly moving. The event was filled with a beautiful mix of dear friends, like-minded philanthropists, as well as produce industry and civic leaders,” Tonya Antle, Co-Founder of the Organic Produce Network, shared with me. “We all walked away feeling blessed for having her in our lives and in awe of how many people she touched and inspired along the way. She will live in my heart forevermore.”

Many friends and family members sat in awe as the celebration was as vibrant and dynamic as the woman herself, as Frank Padilla, Vice President and General Merchandise Manager for Produce and Meat, Costco, reflected.

Frank Padilla, Vice President and General Merchandise Manager for Produce and Meat, Costco“I was fortunate to be able to attend the ‘Frieda-bration’ this past weekend to honor the life of Dr. Queen Frieda Rapoport Caplan. It was a Sea of Purple in honor of Frieda’s favorite color and the familiar and dominant brand that blankets the retail world today. I was moved by the numerous speeches and videos that spoke of Frieda’s impact within the produce industry, her family, friends, and the community,” Frank told me. “I left inspired by just a few of her messages to all of us to ‘never see obstacles, never badmouth others, always listen to the whole story, be a voice in your community, and to speak up and always vote.’”

Tom Stenzel, President and CEO, United Fresh Produce Association and Produce Marketing Association’s CEO Cathy Burns evoked the many contributions of the amazing Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan at Cottonwood Church in Los Alamitos, California

Frieda’s words were echoed and championed by many on Saturday and I am sure—as is Mark Munger, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, 4Earth Farms—that her life will live on long past her passing.

Mark Munger, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, 4Earth Farms“I felt very honored and humbled to be able to join the large group of friends and family celebrating Frieda Caplan’s remarkable life. The entire celebration was such a testament to Frieda’s passion; integrity; and her unquenchable love for her family, her friends, and her company. The lineup of amazing speakers representing her produce family, her favorite causes, and her immediate family really captured the depth of Frieda’s life and was a glimpse of how many people she deeply touched,” Mark expressed. “The event was so authentic and real, and despite the sadness of losing such an amazing human, I left feeling upbeat and inspired. A true sign that Frieda’s magic is still with us!”

Another friend deeply impacted by Frieda and her contagious passion is Marianne Santo, the Senior Category Manager of Produce and Floral for Wakefern Food Corp.

Marianne Santo, Senior Category Manager of Produce and Floral, Wakefern Food Corp.“The celebration was unbelievable and the outpouring of love and respect for Frieda was overwhelming and befitting to her amazing life. I can tell you that this non-cryer was in tears throughout most of the service,” Marianne shared. “In 2018, we honored Frieda at the Eastern Produce Council (EPC) dinner dance. She flew out to New Jersey on a Friday evening, had dinner with Terry Murphy from Wakefern, my husband, Karen, Alex, and me. The next evening she was honored, spoke, and stayed at our event for five hours. Sunday we had a brunch for the Women’s Leadership of the EPC and she flew back that afternoon. When she was leaving, she held both of my hands and told me that it was wonderful to spend a weekend surrounded by so much love. I was truly blessed to not only meet a personal hero, icon, and role model but was also able to tell her in person—and in front of 300 people—exactly what she meant to me. Now there’s a bucket list accomplishment to check off!”

The industry icon and visionary, Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, posed proudly with the famous kiwifruit that helped begin her journey

Marianne added, with a smile, that this weekend many people shared their connection to Frieda with her constant stream of emails.

“I consider myself very lucky to have been on the list. My favorite, however, is one that she sent to my husband after that weekend and I’m sure that she would have absolutely no problem being quoted on this—a common theme this weekend was her legendary flirtiness,” she said.

After complimenting Carmine on his charm and handsomeness, Frieda wrote the following.

Carmine, with Marianne, the new President of EPC, you will learn what my late husband had to learn ... how to play second fiddle...not a bad role, by the way, if you have a strong ego.

A smile and laugh to remember and a passion to live by, we will all deeply miss Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan

“And that is why she is called a Queen. The three women that I sat with are all coming back to work today and seeking out a research project akin to UCI Mind—which is helping to find the cause and cure for Alzheimer’s. That portion of the program and her selflessness in helping with Alzheimer’s disease research was so inspirational, and we all intend to pay it forward in honor of Frieda,” Marianne said.

It is with deep appreciation and gratitude that I thank the Caplan family for allowing myself and our team to honor Frieda with all those who loved her dearly. She will be missed but never forgotten.