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Callaham a 'doer' for the community

The Herald-Mail Co.'s 2002 Person of the Year

The Herald-Mail Co.'s 2002 Person of the Year

January 02, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - When Art Callaham learned he was The Herald-Mail Co.'s 2002 Person of the Year, he cried.

The stocky ex-football player, the Vietnam veteran, the executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, the man with a joke and a laugh for all occasions was overcome by the honor, and he cried.

After deciding that, no, he hadn't fallen asleep at his desk and dreamed the news, he called his wife, Ruth Anne.

"He could hardly get it out," Ruth Anne Callaham said. "He feels a sense of humility, that he's not worthy."

Callaham says he's fond of an Aaron Copeland piece he heard the Maryland Symphony Orchestra play. It's called "Fanfare for the Common Man."

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"That would clearly describe who I am," he said. "I am not anything special."

A panel of community leaders and Herald-Mail employees disagreed with that self-assessment and chose Callaham, 54, of Hagerstown, for the award.

Gary Batey, the general manager of St. Lawrence Cement in Hagerstown and member of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, nominated Callaham.

"He's a real friendly guy," Batey said. "He does an awful lot for the community."

In his short nomination letter, Batey listed many of those involvements, such as board member of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Washington County and Washington County Free Library; past president of the Leadership Hagerstown Alumni Association; and 2000 graduate of Leadership Maryland.

"I've always been a doer," Callaham said. "That's what I pride myself in."

Callaham has been executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee - a group of about 60 community leaders who privately work on local issues - since 1998.

Faced with a career choice when Fort Ritchie, where he worked for 21 years, was targeted for closure, Callaham retired as a lieutenant colonel and took the Greater Hagerstown job.

"Art Callaham is the finest executive director I have ever worked with," Callas Contractors Chief Executive Officer Michael G. Callas - who is nearing the end of a two-year term as the Greater Hagerstown Committee's chairman - said in a statement he released through his company. "He has tremendous energy and knowledge."

Batey said Callaham has a knack for keeping the group's discussions moving along, in the name of progress.

"It's kind of like herding cats," Batey said. "They're not ugly debates, but they're debates."

Growing up


The youngest of three children, Callaham grew up in Hinton in southern West Virginia, along the New River.

His mother taught in public schools for 40 years. His father worked on the railroad for 40 years.

He didn't set out to help raise over a million dollars for charity or serve on non-profit boards or "herd cats" - or even get a college degree.

Callaham went to Marshall University to play football. He was a center and linebacker. However, a leg injury his senior year in high school kept him on the sidelines. He never got to play at Marshall.

"I didn't do very well in college," Callaham said. "It was more entertainment than academic."

He flunked out that first year and went home to get a job.

Then, without a student deferment for the draft, and with a real chance of going to Vietnam, Callaham enlisted in the Army in 1968.

"I wanted to get a skill," he said. "The recruiter said, 'Be an engineer.'"

Callaham soon found that the skill for which he had unwittingly signed up was blowing up mines.

"Immediately, I went to officers' training school," he said. "I was trying to avoid the draft."

Callaham went into the military intelligence corps.

"I ended up in Vietnam anyway," he said.

In 1969, Ruth Anne Callaham was attending Southwest Texas State University. She told her father, who worked at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, that she needed a date for a sorority function.

"Have I got a guy for you," he told her.

It was Arnold Arthur Callaham - fresh out of officers' training school, waiting for a slot in a Vietnamese language program as part of his Army training.

Besides a full head of hair, "he had just that sincerity," Ruth Anne Callaham said.

"He pursued me from the very beginning and I never once doubted that he cared for me. He never once has made me feel anything less than special."

"What has motivated me over my life is my wife," Art Callaham said. "She probably deserves this award more than I do. She knows all my warts and gets me up each morning and inspires me to do this. That's probably tougher than anything I've done."

They've been married 31 years.

If there's one thing people may not know about her husband, Ruth Anne Callaham said, it's his deep sensitivity.

"A lot of people know a lot of funny stories," she said. "But not many know how quickly he gets emotional over things."

The Callahams once won an auction that allowed their grandson, Ethan Mankins, who is 6, to play a toy drum along with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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