Rebuilding Sonoma County: Santa Rosa contractor lauded for help he’s given to fire survivors

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

Special coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2019 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

When people speak about Mike Behler, the same descriptions keep coming up: unsung hero, angel, compassionate, remarkable — all of it brought on in response to the hundreds of hours of unpaid work he’s taken on for survivors of the October 2017 wildfires.

In the nearly 1½ years since that devastating firestorm, the 54-year-old general manager of Santa Rosa-based Behler Construction Co. has volunteered hundreds of hours of his time to helping fire survivors navigate the rebuild process in whatever way he can. He has walked dozens of families through code upgrades, helped them parse lengthy contracts with builders and corresponded with insurance companies.

The work has earned Behler, a nearly lifelong Sonoma County resident, praise that he is quick to brush off.

“It’s just something I think I can do for people,” he said.

He was fortunate and many others weren’t, he reasoned.

Hailing from a family that has been in Sonoma County since about 1900, Behler grew up in Kenwood, attending Kenwood Elementary School, Herbert Slater Middle School and Montgomery High School before goint to Santa Rosa Junior College and then Sacramento State University.

After graduating from Sacramento State, he returned home to join the family construction business.

His connection with the community and familiarity with the construction industry led him to the volunteer advising role he has taken on since the fires.

In the aftermath, Behler thought that his construction company should get in on the rebuild business, getting a new contractor’s license, filing for a separate LLC.

“All that good stuff,” he said.

But quickly he realized the company didn’t need the business, and it might be a better use of his time to give back to his community using his unique skill set and command of the building process.

At the request of Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, Behler started sitting in on panels where fire survivors would raise questions about that process. He would hand out his card and tell people they should feel free to call him with any questions.

They did, and those survivors started to give his name to other friends in need.

“He’s really one of our Sonoma County behind-the-scenes heroes,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “He’s just been incredible.”

When Erin Grillo, a 52-year-old dietician at Sutter Santa Rosa, was trying to help her parents through the rebuild, she reached out to Behler.

Grillo lost her Coffey Park home, and her parents, Howard and Joyce Weyker lost a rental condo they owned in the same area. Grillo said a letter from Behler to their insurance company helped secure her parents more than $100,000 in money for code upgrades — a significant increase from their previous offer.

And when Audrey and Mike Volkin needed help figuring out their Larkfield rebuild, Behler was there to offer advice and counseling through the whole process. At the start, the Volkins said they were entirely clueless.

“The way I describe it to people is if you immediately started running a marathon right now, and never trained a day in your life,” said Audrey Volkin, 39.

With help from Behler, the couple will move in this April. As a thank you, they gave him a mug that reads “Best Mentor Ever.”

“He’s just a really good person who wants to do good work for our community and wants to make sure people are getting what they deserve and what’s accurate and what’s fair,” Volkin said.

Other tokens of appreciation have arrived in Behler’s office over the course of the last year. He has received everything from fresh-baked cookies to the handwritten note, but he still refuses to accept payment of any type for his services.

“Out of the whole year and a half, I’d say there’s nobody I’ve seen who’s done more personally to help fire victims than Mike Behler,” Woods said. “From the moment the fires were out, he has donated every spare moment he’s got for any fire victim who needed advice and counseling.”

He’s still working and taking those phone calls nearly every day. Despite the heavy workload, it’s something he’s committed to continue.

“I’m hoping this will lead to more people calling in to help, actually,” Behler said. “It’s a lot, but it’s OK. I’m paying it forward.”

Special coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2019 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine