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GRCC mourns death of President Emeritus Richard W. Calkins

Dec. 4, 2013 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Community College faculty and staff are mourning the Nov. 29 death of President Emeritus Richard W. Calkins, who led unprecedented campus expansion and the college’s transformation as an independent institution.

Dr. Calkins became chief executive (a title later changed to president) of what was then Grand Rapids Junior College in 1975. A Creston High School graduate, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Albion College and a master’s degree at Michigan State University. After earning his degrees, he became Creston’s vocal music director. In 1969, he became assistant director of personnel for the Grand Rapids school district. At that time, GRJC was operated by the Grand Rapids school district.

Students today can see some of the results of Dr. Calkins’ leadership from almost anywhere on campus: The Music Center, Ford Fieldhouse, Spectrum Theater, College Park Plaza, Student Community Center, and the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center, which all opened during his 23-year tenure. The Calkins Science Center was later named for him.

Dr. Calkins led less-visible expansion, as well. The college began or vastly expanded its theater department, photography program, media services, computer technology training, culinary arts program and occupational therapy program under his leadership.

Dr. Calkins also helped organize a campaign that led to a February 1991 vote that changed the junior college to Grand Rapids Community College, an independent institution with a board of trustees.

“Dick worked tirelessly to move the college forward and increase student-learning opportunities,” said GRCC President Dr. Steven C. Ender. “We will be forever grateful for his vision and tenacity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

A video retrospective on Dr. Calkins work at GRCC may be found here.

Dr. Calkins is survived by his wife in Texas, Patsy Fulton Calkins; sister, Barb Helmholdt; and daughters and their families, Lori and Scott Sanders, and Susan Dobbs and her fiancé, Evans Odando, as well as four grandchildren, Nate and Emily Sanders and Jared and Tyler Dobbs.

A public memorial celebration will be held in spring 2014, which will be announced at a later date.

Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for more than 30,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.