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GRCC remembers former president Richard Calkins

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The GRCC Concert Choir performed for the attendees of President Calkins’ memorial service on March 28.

By Sean P. Mulhall

Many of former Grand Rapids Community College President Richard Calkins’ friends, family and colleagues joined together in celebration of his life and legacy March 28.

Meeting in the Lyon room in the Applied Technologies Center [ATC], Calkins’ colleagues treated his family and friends to a beautiful memorial service. The night was started with a performance by the GRCC Concert Choir and a buffet put together by students of the GRCC culinary program. During a video of old interviews with Calkins, put together by the media department, he expressed how proud he was of the culinary program.

“Culinary arts is the one [department] that comes to my mind,” Calkins said. “If you really look at the history of our program, one by one each faculty member was added. This one complimented that one, and that one complimented the others… You learn from them and they learn from you and then we all learn together. It’s corny but it’s true.”

Bill Foster, a good friend and colleague of Calkins, served as Master of Ceremonies. After briefly speaking about his relationship with Calkins he introduced the current president of GRCC, Steven Ender.

Ender did not know Calkins well, so only spoke briefly. He did touch upon two of the main themes that ran throughout the night. First he praised the performance by the Concert Choir and mentioned Calkins’ love of music. Then he talked about everything Calkins did for GRCC in his tenure at the school.

“Dick’s legacy is very obvious,” Ender said. “President Calkins’ legacy here at Grand Rapids Community College goes beyond bricks and mortar.”

Calkins also spoke, in the video, about the buildings that were erected during his time as president.

“You look back and say ‘six new buildings were added,’” Calkins said. “I don’t think you measure a person by buildings. It isn’t the building that important, it’s what happens inside the building, when instructors and staff meet with students and create the new and exciting challenges for the future.”

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President Calkins’ daughters, Lori Sanders (left) and Sue Dobbs (right) remember their father.

Next, Foster introduced Calkin’s two daughters, Sue Dobbs and Lori Sanders. Dobbs, a former student of GRCC spoke first.

“I didn’t want anybody to know I was his daughter… especially if I was with a boy,” Dobbs said. “At graduation… when I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I wasn’t proud of myself, I was proud of him.”

Dobbs was followed by her sister who has a son currently attending GRCC and a daughter who plans to enroll in the fall.

“I didn’t come prepared to tell you who he was to me,” Sanders said. “To be honest, I can’t find the words. He was everything… To us he was always dad or Papa to his grandkids, but to you he was President Calkins, and with President Calkins came many different aspects of his personality… GRCC is important to us as a family.”

After the video prepared by Klaas Kwant and the media department, Foster introduced Calkins’ replacement as president at GRCC, and the current president of Aquinas College, Juan Olivarez.

“I was doing pretty good until I saw that video,” Olivarez said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be here and to be asked to make some comments about Dick as we all reflect on his life, which was beautiful…He accomplished so much in the years he was here at GRCC and GRJC. He really did grow this place…He was certainly a leader amongst leaders.”

After another song from the Concert Choir two Board of Trustee members had their turns to speak. Lyle Morrison, now retired, spoke first and was followed by current board member Ellen James. Both touched upon the fact that Calkins was more of a friend than a boss.

The night ended with an emotional performance by the Concert Choir that moved some in the crowd to tears. After the Choir finished family, friends and colleagues got up, hugged and continued to tell their favorite stories about President Calkins.