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November 1996

A Geriatrician Enjoys Growing Older


By Diane O’BRIEN

“What was one to do with nine children?” began Evan Calkins, M.D. “We couldn’t take a crowd like that to visit anybody - they could scarcely fit in our car. We simply had to find things for them to do at home. That’s why we live on a small farm of 18 acres in Hamburg. We were able to raise children and animals, and each still have our own projects.”

A noted gerontology expert, Dr. Calkins was referring to the two loves in his life - his family and his work in the medical field.

A young 76, he serves as the senior physician and coordinator of geriatric programs at HealthCarePlan and as an Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Family Medicine at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (UB).

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Renowned gerontologist,
Evan Calkins, M.D.

His long-time sweetheart, Virginia Brady Calkins, M.D., is the staff physician at the Gowanda Correctional Center. For many years, she served as a member of the medical staff at Gowanda Psychiatric Center.

Together, Evan and Virginia Calkins raised nine successful and talented children who, in turn, have blessed them with 21 beautiful grandchildren.

Family - both personal and community - take center stage in the Calkins household, for each is dependent upon the other for success.

“Virginia’s family and mine were similar in several respects,” he said. “Her father, a clinical professor of gynecology at Johns Hopkins, strongly believed in the value of a close family, a good education, hard work and efforts to ‘give something back’ to one’s community.”

“He instilled these values in Virginia and her four sisters - all of whom have rewarding careers as a lawyer, music teacher, a director of international studies at a major university and a college president.”

Dr. Calkins’ father, a lawyer, also believed in those same values and instilled their importance in the minds of young Evan and his siblings.

One of Dr. Calkins’ sisters is a director of religious education, the other is an author/editor. One brother is a church organist and another was a Senior Fellow (Chairman of the Board of Trustees) of Harvard University.

While both families lived in a somewhat luxurious suburban lifestyle that was possible at the time, both stressed the importance of family, work and the community.

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The Calkins’ family enjoys getting together to catch up on the latest
family news and sharing treasured memories.

In raising their own children, the Calkins also emphasized education, hard work, and societal responsibility. However, with many mouths to feed and shoes to buy, life was maintained at a simpler level, starting with a lot of work on the family farm.

If a stone wall needed to be built, the children were there. If a roof needed to be put on, the volunteers - like the tools - again came in all sizes.

Sheep, pigs, geese and even a cow dotted the landscape. Each child chose a certain type of animal to raise and accept responsibility for. It was hard work, but it was also a wonderful learning experience.

“We took the opportunities that came along,” Dr. Calkins said. “For years, our children were involved in showing their animals at such events as the Erie County Fair.”

Although Dr. Calkins worked full-time, his wife was able to keep her own medical practice to a half-day, giving her time to care for the family and organize their various activities. But, life was not always easy.

“When we look at family pictures, we are reminded that the smaller kids tended to wear hand- me-down clothes,” Dr. Calkins said. “The older kids would be spruced up in the latest style. But, for the younger ones, their clothes were somewhat rumpled and patched and eight or ten years out of style.”

Even so, the Calkins household was a happy one and education was a priority. All of the children opted to attend and graduated from Hamburg public schools, rather than attend a private school in Buffalo. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This way, all of our children had the feeling that they made it themselves, from our own small ‘country town’ to the city of their choice,” Dr. Calkins explained.

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The family farm holds fond memories for the Calkins clan.

There were a few things on which he and his wife did not stint - two trips abroad for each child (often with the American Field Service); family vacations at their summer place, “Barking Waters,” in Traverse City, MI; and tuition costs for each child at the best college they could get into.

This turned out to be pretty expensive - two attended Harvard, two went to Yale, two to Williams and three opted for Vassar.

“It really kept us pretty broke,” Dr. Calkins said. “But we found other ways to entertain ourselves. For example, Hamburg is a great town for band music and nearly all our children learned to play brass instruments.”

Today, the Calkins’ three- generation family band which includes seven trumpets (with Dr. Calkins in the ‘first’ chair), a flugel horn, two baritones, a trombone, three flutes, a saxophone, a clarinet, a bassoon and a tuba, plays at family weddings and, occasionally, at the Hamburg Presbyterian Church.

The Calkins’ approach to family life is strengthened by their own marriage which serves as a role model for their children.

In fact, Evan and Virginia recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. While each is devoted to the other, both value their individual private time.

“Virginia and I have our own interests,” he said. “She loves managing the farm, which now includes 25 chickens, two ducks, four Arabian horses and two poodles. My major interest is boating. I tend to my fleet of small boats in Michigan and my 23-foot sloop called ‘Sea Legs,’ which is moored in the Small Boat Harbor.”

At the Calkins enclave, all the children and grandchildren learn to ride horses by the time they are 7. They have become quite expert at sailing - and capsizing - the ‘Sunfish’ and ‘Force Fives’ on the lake in Michigan, and serve as the crew on the ‘Sea Legs.’

As a special adventure on hot summer days, Dr. Calkins and crew anchor the ‘Sea Legs’ in the middle of Lake Erie, tighten the life jackets on the little kids, throw off their sneakers, screw up their courage, and dive or jump overboard for a swim.

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Dr. Calkins on board
“Sea Legs.”

“It’s a bit scary, but fun,” he admitted, “When we’re done, we dry our clothes in the sun as we sail back to port.”

The Calkins’ children have all embarked on interesting careers. Three are physicians, three are lawyers (one of whom quit the law to become a sports columnist in Memphis, TN), one is a social worker, one is a businessman and one is a professor of teaching and writing at Columbia Teachers College.

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The “Calkins Family Band” is well-known in Hamburg, often performing at their local church.
Pictured are members of the brass section, with Dr. Calkins on the far right.

Within the medical profession, Dr. Calkins has published many scientific articles, edited three books (and is now at work on a fourth), and started several medical and community organizations, including the Network in Aging of Western New York.

He has a long-standing interest in the senior population of WNY and has worked to enhance their lifestyle.

Early in his medical career he specialized in rheumatology (arthritis).

As the first Chairman of Medicine at UB, after its incorporation into the SUNY system, he was faced with the challenge of combining the departments of medicine at three separate hospitals - Buffalo General, E.J. Meyer Memorial and Buffalo VA - into a single University-wide department.

“For 17 years, my job was to build up the department,” he said. “We started with about 15 faculty members and recruited over 90 more to staff it. At that time, there were very few subspecialty divisions, such as cardiology, nephrology or endo- crinology. And there was very little in the field of geriatrics. We recruited some wonderful people and had a great time.”

After that, he became the first head of UB’s division of Geriatrics and Gerontology. By the time he retired 12 years later, the division had trained 10 percent of all fellowship trained geriatricians in the country - an accomplishment of which he is very proud.

“Initially it was hard to recruit people into the field,” he said. “Today half of all medicine deals with geriatrics and everybody has to be interested in the field.”

He knows what he is talking about. Dr. Calkins is the same age as many of his patients.

“I empathize with my patients,” he explained. “It is very much a part of my practice. Many of them are in the older age group. We share ideas, bolster each other up and have a special relationship as we grow old together.”

“I really rejoice in my work,” he added, “and I am lucky to be able to continue to be very active. I’m also extremely proud of my family. They are real achievers.”

The closeness of the Calkins family is best illustrated by their grandson, Miles. His poem (see box at left) about the projects he has done, reflect the lifestyle that his grandparents and extended family have exemplified.

Dr. Calkins daughter, Lucy, referring to Miles’ poem in one of her speeches, said: “Dad was delighted with Miles’ poem. He felt it was a wonderful present for Father’s Day. But I think it was Dad who made the present for Miles.”

Diane O’Brien is a free-lance writer from Williamsville, NY.

Photos courtesy of Drs. Evan and Virginia Calkins.


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