Captain Fred Benko
Fred Benko
  • 73 years old
  • Date of birth: Jul 6, 1939
  • Place of birth:
    Barberton, Ohio, United States
  • Date of passing: Mar 7, 2013
  • Place of passing:
    Santa Barbara, California, United States
Fisherman's Prayer: I pray that I may live to fish Until my dying day. And when it comes to my last cast, I then most humbly pray: When in the Lord's great landing net And peacefully asleep That in His mercy I be judged Big enough to keep

This memorial website was created in the loving memory of Captain Fred Benko, who died peacefully in his sleep on March 7th, 2013. His wife Hiroko and family were at his side. Fred was a true Renaissance man: a talented musician who loved theater and performed with the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, photographer, generous benefactor and member of numerous non-profit boards and clubs, and as founder of the SEA Landing and ownder of the Condor Express, a pioneer in the realm of local sportfishing and later, whale watching. Fred was a fixture in the community and will be greatly missed.

A celebration of Fred's life was held on Friday, March 15th at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Maritime Museum, Santa Barbara Zoo, or the Santa Barbara Visiting Nurse and Hospice. 

Friends are welcome to leave a tribute below or share your favorite story about Fred by clicking on the stories tab above. Be sure to revisit the site as photos, videos, stories, and tributes will be regularly updated.
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Fred in the News:
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum establishes Benko Memorial Fund (Noozhawk)
Blue whale named in honor of Fred Benko - view story & photo (.pdf)
• Santa Barbara Independent: In Memoriam: Fred Benko by Hillary Hauser
View KEYT TV's nice segment on Fred's passing
Noozhawk: Capt. Fred Benko, Founder of Condor Cruises, Dies
Santa Barbara News-Press feature article on Fred's passing (text available in His Life section)
• Santa Barbara Independent - Obituary: Fred Benko
Comments & tributes posted on the Condor Express Facebook page

Memorial Tributes
This tribute was added by jillis2@verizon.net ingram on 7th July 2014

"Captain Fred Benko was one of the MOST WONDERFUL men of the SEA.  I was ever so privileged to be on a special whale watch on a May 19th some years ago.  The Captain stated it to be his best in (30) years.  How lucky was I ???  We were out there in the SB Channel and got to observe the "Bubble Net" feeding behavior.  C O O L, and then some.  The juvenile males of the pinnipeds were out to sea avoiding the OLDER males in a deep RUT.  The SEABIRDs had a big Partay too.  I shall never forget that special day in which I shared with Captain Benko.  He was a kind and informative gent.  All of us in ACS love him for certain to this very day!  In Loving Memory & GRATITUDE."

This tribute was added by Ron Charbonneau on 16th April 2013

"Fred always made me welcome during whale watching trips that were always memorable.  His folksy comment in the midst of a pod of 50 Blue Whales, "I feel like a blind dog in a meat factory." made me smile.  Fred's infectious laughter will always ring on the bridge while his spirit  lives on in the whale watching trips on the Santa Barbara Channel!"

This tribute was added by Merit McCrea on 28th March 2013

"Fred, thanks for showing us how to do what we do."

This tribute was added by Astrid Scholz on 18th March 2013

"The oceans just lost some of its more charismatic mega fauna. I have fond memories of Fred on the board of PMCC, especially the evening in a bar in Newport, OR, where he and another board members formed a shield to protect me from an angry fisherman."

This tribute was added by Caroline Gibson on 16th March 2013

"Oh Fred, I have fond and funny memories of pool matches in smoky bars as you helped navigate PMCC through the early years... And Condor trips to follow. Lots of bulls**t and hilarity. And 5 days diving looking for white sharks and riding out the potato patch with fabulous friends, unforgettable. Thank you."

This tribute was added by Nansie Chapman on 16th March 2013

"The number of friends that came to your celebration of life Fred is confirmation of the amazing gift you were to all of us. You will be missed and always remembered by the contributions you made to the Santa Barbara community and the joy you brought to your friends and family."

This tribute was added by Jeanne Keatinge on 16th March 2013

"Fred was an integral part of my introduction to the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera and left us with so many great memories. Always generous with sharing his love of the sea with all of us, he hosted cast  cruises on the Condor many times. His voice was a joy to listen to and the support he showed to the organization was amazing, with Hiroko always at his side. Sail on!"

This tribute was added by Lee Luria on 15th March 2013

"Fred, you are a local hero and will be missed by everyone whose lives you have touched. Eli and my anniversary party on the Condor was a highlight in our lives, not to be forgotten! You made it a memorable event. I know wherever you are you're having a wonderful time!"

This tribute was added by April Montoya on 14th March 2013

"May the waves rise to meet you,May the wind be always at your back,May the sun shine warm upon your face,The rain fall soft upon your ocean,And,until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand. Rest in Peace Fred! You will be missed."

This tribute was added by Peter Cantle on 14th March 2013

"Rest easy, Skipper. The times spent in the wheelhouse with you, Ron and Matt were some of the best ever for me and my boys. I'll always be grateful to have known you and to call you a friend."

This tribute was added by JD DeLong on 14th March 2013

"Fred, you are the best. Rest in peace. JD"

This tribute was added by Joel Greenberg on 13th March 2013

"Fred's love of fishing and the sea was highly infectious. As the quintessential passenger, I was on board the Condor soon after its 1979 launch and Fred was the main reason I kept coming back for more. Every fishing trip was a whale watching trip, a bird watching trip and -- oh yeah -- we always caught fish. Thank you, Fred, for all wonderful lore you shared with all of us!"

This tribute was added by Mary Katherine Littman on 13th March 2013

"I was a teacher in the Los Marineros program and Fred would come to Cleveland to give his whale presentation. What came across so profoundly was his deep love and respect for all sea creatures. My fondest memory is when we came upon two humpbacks who breached over 100 times next to the Condor as we moved beside them. Photos from this day were part of his presentation for years afterward."

This tribute was added by Kaye Walters on 12th March 2013

"Fred, you’ve been a friend & client to me since the 80s. I will miss our long lunches together talking about everything from business to boats and sea adventures. I watched you turn your dream to build a new & better whale watching boat into a reality. I had many good times on both old & new Condors, and it was a joy when you were at the helm narrating the adventure. Arrr matey! Love Ya."

This tribute was added by IRV GRISBECK on 12th March 2013

"My heart is heavy learning of Fred's death He was a visionary for the industry and wasn't given the true credit he deserved.

you will be remembred"

This tribute was added by Frank Ursitti on 12th March 2013

"Although distant associates, I grew up around the waterfront amidst stories of Fred. He will forever remain iconic for his entrepreneurial savvy, his love for the ocean and his approach to life. Godspeed Fred, on this your next adventure..."

This tribute was added by K Collins on 12th March 2013

"There were many of us undergrads at UCSB that worked through college for Fred.  I'll always remember his quick wit, charm, and ability to sell anything! Really a neat guy and an inspiration to so many."

This tribute was added by Peter Taborsky on 11th March 2013

"In 1979, as an awkward 12 year old kid I started working for Fred. For the next 18 years I worked at Sea Landing on several of the boats he owned.  Fred showed me patience, kindness and always encouraged me. Fred always had a positive attitude. Though he had seen thousands of them, each fish over the rail or whale spouting genuinely excited him. Years later I was a Captain for him on the originalC"

This tribute was added by Claire Fackler on 11th March 2013

"The community of Santa Barbara, as well as the Santa Barbara Channel are all better off due to the presence of Fred Benko. My thoughts and prayers go out to Fred's family and all of his friends. He will certainly be missed, yet his legacy lives on."

This tribute was added by Michael Finucan on 11th March 2013

"We worked together at the beginning of the first Condor days and I worked with you through the beginnings of the first trips out to San Miguel Island in the late 70's and I always will remember your love of the Sea and the feeling of excitement that you expressed. As your friend I will miss you, but I am sure that you will be riding the waves with the whales and dolphins you so dearly love"

This tribute was added by Therese Vannier on 11th March 2013

""Fred, we met tagging and monitoring Blue Whales in the Santa Barbara Channel (1993). You said that "in marine biology, even the most ridiculous jobs are worth doing." You said that *my job was a very important one and that orange was your favourite colour." We laughed the entire week about that comment. Cheers to good times at sea and ridiculous tasks, my friend. *whale poop collector"

This tribute was added by Barry Rusetos on 11th March 2013

"Fred-so many things should be said for the time you were with us-your
work in the community and sharing your love of nature and the sea.  You will always be rememberd as the heart and soul of our Pobre's riding group with your singing and joking around the campfire.  You are
profoundly missed.  Semper Fi"

This tribute was added by cynthia woo on 11th March 2013

"Twas a great privilege to have you as life long friend & share the blessings of the Santa Barbara lifestyle, on water & shore.  Thru life's trials, you were always there to say a kind word, give hugs, make us laugh & show the meaning of service, hospitality, leadership & entertainment which lifted spirits.  Hope you are with the dolphins going over the rainbow bridge at Pt. Concepcion now."

This tribute was added by jillis2@verizon.net ingram on 10th March 2013

"The most magical times on the sea took place on The Condor.  Most trips I joined in with ACS.  Several years ago we were blessed to be out in the SB Channel surrounded by humpbacks doing all that they are famous for.  Captain Fred was so excited and claimed that it was the best sighting in 30 years.  It was an honor to join in his expert journies and we will all miss him. Blessings to you."

This tribute was added by Brown David on 10th March 2013

"Fred was an amazing man, a wonderful advocate for the ocean and a great friend.  It was a privilege to know him, and I will never forget him."

This tribute was added by Flor Oropeza on 10th March 2013

""Mr,Benco l took care of you the last five months with love,respect,dignity and compassion.you were a wonderful,especially a kind man. I remember the good moments,we always talked alot, watched movies, had dinner, l spend all day with you.i will miss you.Rest in peace my captain""

This tribute was added by Phil Poirier on 9th March 2013

"I was lucky enough to meet Ferd and his wife in Tanzania on a photo safari back in 2005. Though I only knew him for those two weeks him and his wife invited me to come out and vist them at there house in Santa Barbra. I was unable to make that trip but I alwas knew it would have been fun. Fred seemed to be very outgoing and hospitable.  I'm know he will be missed by many. RIP"

This tribute was added by Chuck Rennie on 9th March 2013

"After Fred built the Condor, he ran all of the whale watches and the island trips for us at SBMNH.  I've never met a betterr skipper or a finer human.  Fred was bright, gracious, generous, kind, and a wonderful raconteur.  He was a pillar of the community,  His is an enormous loss; he cannot be replaced.  Fair winds and following seas, old friend."

This tribute was added by Mike Davidson on 9th March 2013

"RIP Capt. Fred Benko...You were the Grandfather I never had, you were my best friend, you showed me a world that many never get to see, you showed me how to become a man.  The day I set foot on your boat at the age of 12 I was home, a home away from home that shaped who I am today.  I will never forget the experiences, the stories and the laughter.  Steady as she goes my dear friend..."

This tribute was added by Nancy Johnke on 9th March 2013

"Fred-you made our Los Marineros program "zing" with the friendly, knowledgable trips you made available to us.  Many fifth and sixth grade students at Franklin Elementary will always carry a part of you in their hearts."

This tribute was added by Tony Nichols on 9th March 2013

"My heart is heavy and grateful. Fred was an impressive man that left a legacy of appreciation that is indelible. His love of fish, cetaceans, and people will be remembered forever. I was crazy/lucky to have Fred on board when I saw my first blue whale in '86. I dedicate this year of volunteer contribution to him and PROMISE to name/call my 1st Newport sighting "Fred"."

This tribute was added by Geoff Grow on 9th March 2013

"I first met Fred in 2004 at slideshow that he was presenting. I remember Fred had an amazing collection of marine photos from his years in the Channel. Fred inspired me to learn more about the Channel and its wildlife. It is, in large part, because of him I volunteer for the marine sanctuary. Thanks Fred -- I will miss you."

This tribute was added by Michael Hanrahan on 9th March 2013

"When you stepped into the wheelhouse on Condor with Fred Benko, you knew you were in the company of a man who truly loved the sea. Thousands of children from our area have Fred to thank for taking them safely aboard CONDOR and CONDOR EXPRESS, introducing them to the endangered whales here - future advocates for the world he loved most.  Open water from here, Fred. Let her rip!"

This tribute was added by Shauna Bingham on 9th March 2013

"Fred means a lot to many of us and he will be missed but never forgotten - he has left a legacy! I truly value the days I shared with Fred out on the ocean. He possessed a genuine enthusiasm and love of the sea that we all sensed and were drawn to. He founded whale watching in Santa Barbara and was the brainchild behind the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteer program."

This tribute was added by ben short on 9th March 2013

"Fred, - you were a true friend who showed us the beauty of Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands, Cabo, and Bellingham.  Catching fish and enjoying them that evening, fireworks from your deck, Pobres, Pescatores, Los Fiesteros and swapping sea stories.  You were a real gentleman who did so much for the community.  We admire all that you have done and are proud to be your friend.  Ben and Jef"

This tribute was added by bob perry on 9th March 2013

""You see those white rocks?" Fred would announce, when running the boat along the seacliffs of Santa Cruz Island en route to his beloved Painted Cave "the Government is now spending millions to determine why the sea birds always seem to roost on the white rocks."  His wonderful, old school sense of humor will be missed."

This tribute was added by Don Barthelmess on 9th March 2013

"Fred, you did much for the Santa Barbara Non-profit community over so many years.  You were a true man of the sea and a pioneer in eco-tourism.
I will cherish the many memories of the old Condor days with SBCC and NOAA fundraising. Pescatores whale watching, our trip to China and the many gatherings on the hill-  Fair Winds and Following Seas.."

This tribute was added by Patricia Zaffuto on 9th March 2013

"I was one of Fred's original "galley girls" when he opened Sea Landing at the Harbor underneath the John Dory Restaurant many years ago.  He was a fine man & will be forever missed in our beautiful city & Harbor for all he has done & accomplished here.  His legacy will live on & he will always be remembered.  He may not be resting in peace but kicking up his heels on the other side.  LOVE"

This tribute was added by Silvio Loreeto on 9th March 2013

"Fred you are a Marine in every sense of the word. Once a Marine you will always remain one. General Fred Lopez will admonish anyone who says otherwise. I knew you enjoyed acting occasionally but until I read your obituary I never knew you played a musical instrument.. The entire world loved you and we only wish we were there for you when needed;"

This tribute was added by Eric Zimmerman on 8th March 2013

"Fred, you are my friend, mentor, and surrogate Santa Barbara father!  You always believed in me, even when I did not. Your generosity, free spirit, and zest for life is permanently ingrained in everyone who was fortunate enough to know you. I love you with all my heart and soul and I will never forget all that you have done and taught me. Rest in peace my captain!"


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Eric Zimmerman

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