Remembering Mike Cain


Michael Cain Photo credit: Joanne Wells

Emma Bapp, Contributor

Mike Cain, who was a special educator at BFA for 26 years, contributed astronomically to the BFA community. From education all the way to athletics, Cain’s care for others and passion for learning were evident. Many people who were lucky enough to have the chance to know Cain shared the great impact he had on them and those in the BFA community. 

According to BFA social studies teacher, Justin Bedell, “Mike’s career was spent advocating for, supporting and coaching students from all walks of life. He found the good in everyone and focused on that from a strengths-based perspective, similar to the philosophy behind Hiram and Susan Bellows’s opening and funding BFA in 1930. Mike lived and walked what BFA’s tradition is all about.”

Many others, such as BFA social studies teacher, Jeff Moulton, spoke highly of the Summit Program, which was established at BFA by Cain and Joanne Wells, Cain’s life partner. It was one of the first programs to meet the needs of students with emotional/behavioral challenges. Moulton referred to the program as, “A revolutionary approach to emotional intelligence.” He added, “What I learned from [Mike and Joanne] in six months of working with them in the Summit Program was more helpful in becoming a teacher and a person than just about any other experience I’ve had in my life.” Moulton described Cain as, “A true champion of learning.”

Moulton also reflected on Cain’s unique persona and outlook on life. He recounted Cain as calm and collected with a steady confidence and patience that made it easy for him to make such an impact on students. Moulton said Cain was humble and welcoming to everyone. According to Moulton, “There was no ego, so you felt valued. [Mike] accepted you for who you were so you were comfortable in your own skin around him, always. And you felt like you were a helpful team member…he would always validate the good.”

Two other former colleagues of Cain’s, Walter and Cindy Scofield, shared memories of his impact as a BFA educator. “We were in the Diversified Occupations Program (DO), which later became the Community Integration Program (CIP). Summit was just an idea at the time and was founded a few years later. We had a woodshop located where [the Northwest Career and Technical Center’s] offices are now. Mike had devised an assembly line using the Individualized Education Program (IEP) students to make Adirondack chairs. Each student had sandpaper and would carefully sand the wood smooth. Others helped screw the parts together. We sold the chairs to staff and family.”

The Scofields added, “Mike was a country music lover and every half hour we would take a ‘one song break.’  The music was cranked up, and the students sang, played air guitar and air drums. It was great fun, and other staff and students would join us. The students were learning a skill and had the satisfaction of seeing their completed chairs.”

Cain was an educational innovator and created not only an accepting atmosphere for all of his students, but one that was enjoyable. He showed a passion for learning and sharing it with others, which he achieved through programs like Summit. He was devoted to his students and to developing their skills in unique ways. According to BFA educators Neal Smith and Paul Brown, “He provided a huge variety of in-school and off-campus activities, and he helped engage so many students in athletics. His passion led many students to opportunities and adventures they never would have had without his energy and advocacy.”

Smith and Brown also noted that, “He was a strong believer in a ‘strength-based’ approach, and worked to help students, families and faculty to focus on what students COULD do.” This approach to learning made Cain beloved by both students and colleagues such as Smith and Brown. “He was a collaborator and team player. He was an advocate of adventure learning. He WAS an adventure,” Smith and Brown said. 

Cain left quite the legacy as a BFA educator that not only impacted those around him, but the school as a whole. Smith and Brown described his legacy as this: “That all students, regardless of abilities and disabilities, have a world of possibilities. That it’s essential to provide fun, lessons about life, experiential learning and challenge. That you can do good work without being tied to paperwork. That kindness and connection are the way.” Although, it is not only through education that Cain left his mark on the BFA community.

BFA Nordic, cross country and track coach, Mike Mashtare shared some of his favorite memories of Cain, who was his assistant coach during the Nordic season for 13 years but, more importantly, his friend. From skiing, to paddling, to hiking and even painting houses together, Cain and Mashtare had done it all. Mashtare remembered one time during Nordic which took place on a snowy road in a school bus that Mashtare was driving. “It was a snowy morning, and one of the roads that we were traveling [was] literally four or five miles from the Nordic center in Craftsbury. The road had not been plowed and had another vehicle coming out, so I had to get over a little bit and, not knowing the road, my back tire got caught and went out a little bit off the road into the ditch. And we were stuck. Time’s passing, so Mr. Cain goes, ‘Kids, get out your skis, we’re skiing to the race!’  He took the team, and [they] skied the last four or five miles to the race…while I waited for the town highway department to come through.” 

This story embodies Cain’s pure dedication to the team. According to Mashtare, Cain and Wells had purchased a home in Florida for the winter, but Cain would not head south until after Nordic season was completed. His dedication was combined with his outright joy for those around him. Mashtare characterized Cain by, “the glint in his eye, and certainly just his big heart and how he just lit up being around kids and being in the outdoors.” Cain always showed unconditional support to those on the Nordic team and instilled in not just the athletes, but Mashtare as a coach, that it is not all about winning, but sharing your passions with others. 

Another person lucky to have built a relationship with Cain is BFA student Ian Carpenter. Carpenter is part of the BFA Nordic, cross country, track and field and Special Olympics teams. Cain and Carpenter had a wholesome, humorous relationship that consisted of equal parts jokes and kind support. This is exemplified in Cain’s nickname for Carpenter being “pokey” coupled with his commitment to wait for Carpenter at the finish line of every single Nordic race. 

When asked how he would describe Cain, Carpenter replied first with one word, “Awesome.” This may be the only word that could come close to encompassing Cain’s whole character. Across every facet and discipline, that was simply who and what Cain was: awesome. Carpenter later added to his description of Cain, which included, but was not limited to, characteristics such as “sweet, helpful, funny and a good motivator.” 

Both Smith and Brown concluded that Cain was a “real character” and held many attributes. “Cain was a big heart, patience, positivity, empowering, adventure, spirit, humor, perseverance, possibilities, pragmatism, believing, hope, humor and so much more.” He was, in the words of Brown, “a generous spirit,” because what Cain did was not for himself, but for others. He was most happy when other people benefitted from an experience, and he gave all of himself to those people and experiences. 

Cain never stopped exploring, never stopped adventuring and never stopped learning. He continued to create new and daring experiences as often as possible. Most importantly, he never stopped sharing. Cain shared his experiences, his passions and his learning with those around him, and by doing so he left a mark on many.