Cam Calkins: The Secret Ingredient is Love

UCR Dining Services employee donates $52,000 to the Graduate School of Education, and will additionally support the R’Pantry

Cam Calkins’ life is full of stories.

There are tales of the seven years Cam – full name James Cameron Calkins – spent teaching conversational English to students in Indonesia, and others about his trek up a dormant volcano on that same island while riding on a 1955 BMW motorcycle.

There are yet more having to do with personal heartbreak – a planned wedding that never materialized, and of the many years he spent in near solitude, finding refuge in the 50 books he reads per year.

And while there are plenty about the 18 years he’s spent working at UCR, there are perhaps none that speak of Calkins’ character more than the story of his generous $52,000 donation to UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education (GSOE) earlier this year as a way to support education access and honor his late father.

Calkins, 56, started working at UCR’s Dining Services division while he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental science at UCR. He graduated in 2004. Throughout that time, he took on jobs that ranged from custodial work, to picking oranges from UCR’s own citrus fields and delivering them to campus. After serving many years as a dishwasher, this past year he decided to become a baker.

Cam Calkins (far right) with a group of friends in Indonesia in the early 1990s. courtesy of cam calkins

Some of Calkins’ favorite memories come from his time in the dishwashing room interacting with various student workers that came and went throughout the years. He’s met students from at least 43 different ethnic backgrounds. Their stories have impacted his life in different ways and reinforced one of his core beliefs: education – and college access – is important.

In May, Calkins received an inheritance after the death of his father, James Edwin Calkins, a former architect in Hemet. However, Cam Calkins decided he didn’t need all the money for himself, opting to donate $52,000 to UCR’s Graduate School of Education. The gift became an endowment to fund the annual $2,000 James E. and James C. Calkins Scholarship award to a GSOE student.

Calkins said he chose the GSOE because teachers fill a huge gap in society.

“Teachers are the ones out there who really make a difference in students’ lives. Teachers basically raise the kids because parents are at work,” Calkins said.

Calkins also decided to support the R’Pantry, UCR’s food pantry, with monthly food donations.

He was adopted as an infant by the Calkins family. He grew up in Hemet and has endless memories of his years there. When he was old enough he started riding through the hills and mountains in his Honda 50 minibike. He enjoyed bird watching, the peace and stillness after a rainy day, and climbing in a bamboo forest. He spent time playing at a pond near his home.

“I used to catch frogs, pollywogs, and bullfrogs and bring them home and show my mother,” Calkins said. His mother, Bettye Louise Calkins, died in 2016.

He also taught himself how to play the piano and became a ham radio operator. Calkins traveled abroad during his academic breaks as a UCR student and also obtained a teaching certificate at the UCR Extension, where he was an English-language tutor for international students.

Cam Calkins was baking brownies on a recent summer day. Calkins has worked at UCR for 18 years. ucr

“I love it here, this is my world. Not just necessarily Dining Services, but the whole campus,” said Calkins, who noted his father at one point questioned his decision to remain in Dining Services, but respected his son’s choice and supported his non-materialistic lifestyle.

“What I saw in my father was perseverance,” Calkins said. “To never, ever quit; to be who you are; to establish friendships and acquaintances.”

In recent years, Calkins, a fierce reader, has been reading more about religion, philosophy, self-help books, and about the importance of “conquering yourself,” he said.

Calkins has amassed three binders full of stories about his time at UCR, many of which he typed or hand wrote himself. The binders also include newspaper articles that reflect UCR’s growth, certificates of recognition from his supervisors, thank-you notes from students, as well as photos and letters from students abroad who’ve kept in touch with him.

Calkins has a quiet demeanor on the job and goes about this work with little objection. But when it comes to baking, he doesn’t like to rush, having figured out his own special recipe for the brownies and rice krispies he makes.

“I put an extra ingredient that is not in the recipe,” Calkins said. “Love.”

Lanette Dickerson, executive chef for retail and hospitality services at the HUB, said she has known Calkins for 18 years.

“He gives us just as much as we probably give him. It’s more than work here, we’re family in a way. It’s great to be part of Cam’s life,” Dickerson said.

Deserved Recognition

When Calkins decided to share his inheritance, UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox invited him to a meeting in his office.

James Cameron “Cam” Calkins.

“When I heard the news, I wanted to make sure I thanked you personally,” Wilcox told Calkins during their chat. “This means so much for our campus, for our students.”

GSOE Dean Thomas Smith, who was also present at the meeting, said he’s excited about the scholarships students will receive.

“Recipients of the scholarship will be people who want to teach in the Riverside and San Bernardino counties because here is where there is so much need,” Smith explained.

Calkins smiled widely.

Soon, Calkins said, he will spend time gathering more stories about his father, and start a new binder with notes regarding the James E. and James C. Calkins Scholarship. He also looks forward to meeting the scholarship recipients and hearing their stories.

“I lead a simple life. I don’t need so much, so I decided to share,” Calkins said. “This is a way to say thank-you. I want to thank UCR because it made me who I am today.”

Left to Right: Dean of the Graduate School of Education Thomas Smith, Alumnus and Dining Services employee Cam Calkins, Chancellor’s wife Diane Del Buono, UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, and Senior Director of Development for Campuswide Initiatives Sam Lang, pose for a photo at the chancellor’s office on July 19, 2017. carlos puma

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