In recognition for their exemplary humanitarian service, Edwin and Jacqueline Caplan of Alexandria are the latest honorees of the ‘Service Above Self Award’ presented by the Rotary Club of Alexandria. The prestigious award is Rotary International’s highest honor for individual members. “It’s a wonderful honor, and I was certainly surprised by the award, and appreciate being appreciated,” Ed says. “Particularly knowing others who have received this honor, it is very nice to be in such good company,” Jacque adds.
The two each have received numerous awards throughout the decades for their life-long service to Central Louisiana. “But it is not about awards,” Ed notes, “Giving back to the community is about living life. Getting involved in the community keeps us connected to the community.”
Ed’s roots in the area are deep. His grandfather founded the Caplan’s store on Third Street in downtown Alexandria in 1891, and it remains open today. Born and raised in Alexandria, Ed attended Bolton High School. During high school, Ed was active in the business clubs, the Key Club, the National Honor Society and was editor of the school newspaper. At graduation, Ed was named the school’s valedictorian. He had worked in the family business throughout school.
After graduation, Ed attended Tulane University in New Orleans. As a senior, he conducted a freshman orientation for the students, and it was at the orientation he met Jacque, his future wife. Jacque was from New Orleans. She had also graduated valedictorian from her all-girl high school. “At that time, I wanted to go to college and have a career. Ed was the first man I met who had the same values as me, and who had the same basic feelings for life like I did,” Jacque recalls of the time when the two started dating.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in business from Tulane, Ed served two years in the transportation corps of the U.S. Army, including one year stationed in Korea. He had been active in the R.O.T.C. in college. On May 31, 1955, Jacque graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor’s degree in management and business administration. The very next day, Ed and Jacque were married. The two decided to move to Alexandria, and Ed started working in the family Caplan’s store downtown. Although she had not intended to work in the family business, Jacque started working in the Caplan’s store as their public relations and computer operations manager. The two were key in the Caplan’s business expansion. “Retail was fun at that time. We had the opportunity to expand our horizons,” Ed recalls.
The Caplans expanded and remodeled the downtown store, opened up a bowling equipment store in Bowlero’s bowling alley, a uniform shop for the troops in Leesville, and opened a new store in Natchitoches. Eventually, the Caplan family opened a new store in MacArthur Village and one in the Alexandria Mall. Before retiring , Ed and Jacque both had worked in the retail family business for 43 years. They even represented the family name globally by serving in several professional retail organizations.
For years, Ed served as the president and chairman of the national organization, Menswear Retailers of America. For 40 years, Ed and Jacque both traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Australia, speaking on behalf of the organization as keynote speakers in seminars around the world. As a chief executive officer of Caplan’s, Ed joined the Young Presidents’ Organization, which provided him with invaluable experiences. At one 10-day networking seminar, he remembers interchanges with Henry Kissinger and the king of Spain. Ed also became active in the World Presidents’ Organization, designed for networking among the world’s business leaders. Despite all their world travel for business, Ed, who is the current secretary and treasurer of the Alexandria Rotary Club, says they always made time in their lives to be active in their community.
Jacque became a member of the Junior League when they first moved to Alexandria as a married couple. With her theatrical background from her days of writing and producing musical comedies at Tulane, Jacque was asked to help out with the dramas at the Little Theater in Alexandria. “I was so involved with business at first, but after about a year, I suggested we do a musical. No one would take the project on, but I decided I was going to direct it myself. We did ‘The Boyfriend,’ and it was a huge success,” Jacque recalls.
From that time on, Jacque directed and produced plays, comedies and musicals for years. For 13 years, she directed summer shows at the Little Theater for teenagers. “We had between 85 to 185 kids every summer involved. The kids did everything themselves – the costumes, the acting, the advertising. Everything was volunteer. They sold tickets. It was training for the kids to get them through life by doing. I learned so much. They gave me more than I could ever give them,” Jacque notes.
The couple’s children, Judy, Stephen and Sherry all grew up participating in the summer theater productions. Eventually, Jacque would direct the first opera presented in the Little Theater. She became the theater “go-to” person in the region. Through her efforts, Jacque was able to orchestrate a community cooperation that united talents of the Red River Ballet, the Rapides Symphony Orchestra, chorale groups, community and family playhouse theater groups to present The King and I. “It was absolutely fantastic. It was something everyone said could not be done and the community responded to it,” Jacque recalls.
Her next community production was the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Currently, Jacque serves on the Arts Council Board, the Family Playhouse Board and the Arts and Healthcare Board. When the Coughlin-Sanders Theatre opened, Jacque chaired the opening night. She brought in successful performers, artists, authors, poets and musicians from the area but who now live all over the world. “I became totally immersed in the community. We have an extremely welcoming community. If you are willing to give to it, it is willing to receive. You only get out of something what you put into it,” Jacque says.
Besides the national retail organizations, Ed served five years as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in New Orleans. He has served as a mentor for several young business leaders, and both Ed and Jacque have been active in the Jewish Temple for many years. Jacque even served as the first woman president of the Jewish Temple Board. In addition, Jacque has served on the Rapides Foundation Board, the Community Foundation Board, the Rapides Regional Medical Center Medical Board and the RRMC Children’s and Women’s Hospital Board.
Although retired from business, Ed and Jacque both say they are not retired from life. They have traveled extensively to six continents, and take at least one major trip a year. They enjoy spending time with their three children and their families which include six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “We are not retired, we are re-wired,” Ed laughs. “We are working as much as we always did.”
“We are in the best passage of our lives,” Jacque adds, “We are getting back to what we got married for in the first place – to be together. Ed is my best friend. We got our health, and we are looking forward to new and different things.” The two are people of their word. They just returned from a month-long journey through China, and are about to leave for a sailing trip on a catamaran through the Panama Canal. Bon voyage!