‘Chief Mike’ remembered as outdoorsman who helped mentor youth
He wasn’t a police chief or fire chief, but everyone knew the strong, burly man by his two-word moniker: “Chief Mike.”
Mike Martinez, 71, lauded if not beloved for his decades of volunteering with the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters program, died of prostate cancer Sunday at his home in Santa Fe. He was diagnosed with the disease in August, his wife, Wendy Martinez, said.
Martinez, one of five siblings, had gained many little brothers through the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentorship program.
Wendy Martinez, his wife of 51 years, said many of her husband’s “littles” have reached out to offer condolences since his death. One man told her Mike Martinez was one of the reasons he stayed out of jail and now has a career, she said.
David Sherman, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region since August, said Mike Martinez was a familiar face around the agency and often played the role of Santa Claus at the nonprofit’s holiday party.
Martinez also created a program to teach fly-fishing to children in the program, took groups on spring mushroom hunts and mentored child after child, Sherman said.
“He’s definitely one of our first matches that we know of,” Sherman said, referring to the mentoring relationships between adults and children that the nonprofit facilitates. “It’s just inspiring.”
Martinez also aided local kids through martial arts.
For about 22 years, he trained in tai chi and hapkido at the Martial Arts Institute on Second Street. The owner, Daniel Walker, said he remembered Martinez’s initial reluctance to join in as he watched Wendy take tai chi classes. For about six months, Walker said, Martinez would stand there with his arms crossed as he watched his wife.
Finally, Walker managed to engage Martinez in the class, and he became an avid student and, ultimately, an instructor with a fourth-degree black belt in hapkido.
As he taught classes to kids, Walker said, Martinez would organize fishing and camping trips for them and would invite them to his home for dinners.
“He was a prime example of somebody who was selfless,” Walker said. “He just had that big heart.”
Wendy Martinez said her husband had lived a “pretty cool” life. The two met at Santa Fe High School, where he was two grade levels ahead of her.
After graduating in 1965, his wife said, Mike Martinez studied archaeology at what was then the College of Santa Fe before deciding it wasn’t for him.
The high school sweethearts married not long after Wendy graduated from Santa Fe High and then set out into the world in a red, white and blue van. “It was the hippie days,” she said. The couple traveled coast to coast, and even traveled through Canada for a time, stopping to do odd jobs when they ran out of money.
After four years of traveling, they settled back in Santa Fe and had a daughter, Ahna.
Mike Martinez worked at Santa Fe Power Equipment for a while before opening his own business, Chief Mike’s Chainsaw Repairs.
Wendy Martinez said her husband never lost touch with his passions.
“All he ever wanted to do was go to the mountains,” she said. “He was like a mountain man.”