AACHM Oral History: Russell Calvert
Sat, 09/21/2013 - 3:32pm
When: March 14, 2013 at the Downtown Library
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Russell Calvert is the Owner/Operator of Calvert’s Roll-Off Container, Inc. Calvert’s Roll-Off Container, Inc. has been in business since the early 1950s. Burgess Calvert, Russell’s father, started the company with one truck; Russell joined the company in 1976 and has greatly expanded the business to include government and commercial services. As the Owner & Operator, Russell oversees the daily operations, development, and implementation of all programs and operations.
- [00:00:29.96] INTERVIEWER 1: Could you please say and spell your name?
- [00:00:32.95] RUSSELL CALVERT: My name is Russell L. Calvert, and the L is for Lee. It's R-U-S-S-E-double L. Lee-- L-E-E-- Calvert-- C-A-L-V-E-R-T.
- [00:00:44.40] INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you. And what is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:00:47.98] RUSSELL CALVERT: 11/4/42.
- [00:00:51.42] INTERVIEWER 1: And how would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:00:56.96] RUSSELL CALVERT: My ethnic background would be I'd say varied, being that I grew up in a community where we were exposed to a lot of things that just wasn't to one culture.
- [00:01:12.24] INTERVIEWER 1: OK. And what is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:16.53] RUSSELL CALVERT: I am a Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal.
- [00:01:22.27] INTERVIEWER 1: And what's the highest level of formal education you've completed?
- [00:01:26.65] RUSSELL CALVERT: High school and some junior college classes.
- [00:01:30.41] INTERVIEWER 1: And did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
- [00:01:35.86] RUSSELL CALVERT: Various trades-- construction, blueprint reading, that kind of thing-- but pretty much the school of learning and running a business for almost 43 years. I think that I probably could write a dissertation on business if I needed to.
- [00:01:51.90] INTERVIEWER 1: And what is your marital status?
- [00:01:53.76] RUSSELL CALVERT: I am married.
- [00:01:55.72] INTERVIEWER 1: And is your spouse is still living?
- [00:01:57.79] RUSSELL CALVERT: Yes.
- [00:01:58.67] INTERVIEWER 1: Apparently. I'm widowed and I still think of myself as being married. So it's hard. Anyway, how many children do you have?
- [00:02:07.06] RUSSELL CALVERT: I have four.
- [00:02:08.79] INTERVIEWER 1: And how many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:10.77] RUSSELL CALVERT: I have four.
- [00:02:13.20] INTERVIEWER 1: And what was your primary occupation?
- [00:02:17.11] RUSSELL CALVERT: I was a business operator of Calvert's Roll-Off Container and Waste Services and Recycling here in Ann Arbor.
- [00:02:24.49] INTERVIEWER 1: And for how long?
- [00:02:26.00] RUSSELL CALVERT: For approximately 43 years.
- [00:02:28.06] INTERVIEWER 1: And at what age did you retire?
- [00:02:31.96] RUSSELL CALVERT: Five years ago-- five and a half years ago, so I'd been 65, roughly.
- [00:02:37.95] INTERVIEWER 1: So Rolindo, maybe you want to pick up at this point?
- [00:02:40.32] INTERVIEWER 2: Yeah. So this next section is about memories from your childhood and youth. So we're going to ask a lot of questions here, and so they may jog some memories about other areas of your life. But for now, just try to keep it to just your childhood and youth. So the first question which it's asking is, what was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:03:06.17] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, we were poor, but we didn't know we were poor. By the word poor, we were rich in pride. We were rich in two parents who pride themselves in putting a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on the table.
- [00:03:24.16] We weren't privy to run out and say, well, dad, can I have a dollar? It was always the answer, well, you can work for what you want to get the extra. But we had the necessities, and like I say, we were poor but we didn't know we were poor, because we had pride instilled in us at a young age.
- [00:03:45.50] INTERVIEWER 2: You talked a little bit about your parents in your last response. So what kind of work did your parents do?
- [00:03:53.66] RUSSELL CALVERT: My mother was a cosmetologist. Early on, she worked for Judson's Formprint that was located on Kingsley, a matter of fact, just up the street from Mrs. Morton's home. My dad was always what they would call a drayman, laborer, layman. He worked at Ford Electric Furnace, Ford Rouge Plant, and different various jobs, custodial or whatever. And then in the late '40s, he actually started the business that I retired from and ran for the number of years. So I'm second generation as a business owner.
- [00:04:34.42] My dad was a very prideful man, and I think it was more not wanting to be told what to do, so he became self-employed, and he was good at it He didn't want to be too big, but he wanted enough to be comfortable. And that kind of went down the road in my thought, only I kind of grew because the area grew. I hope that covers it.
- [00:05:04.90] INTERVIEWER 2: That's wonderful. Do you have an earliest memory from childhood?
- [00:05:09.63] RUSSELL CALVERT: Oh, yeah. I can go back to when I learned how to-- when I used to go fishing. My family's recreation was fishing. I know I started swimming at Argo Pond here at the Huron River.
- [00:05:25.17] I don't know anybody shared this with you in the past, but when Detroit Edison dug the canal to run the power plant at Broadway, the Broadway power plant there, to spin the turbines, during that process of excavation, they built an island which is still at the Argo Pond now near the canoe livery.
- [00:05:48.99] And I remember as a child going down there with my father and my mother, the old long cane poles, put on the car, bent over with a towel so it wouldn't scratch the car. And I remember growing up fishing with just a piece of willow and a piece of cat gut, a single hook and a stick bobber, and catching bluegills and bullheads and rock bass as a child. So I have a lot earlier memories of going down catching crabs and seining minnows as a youngster.
- [00:06:18.21] Those are really instrumental things, and learning how to ice skate. And I learned how to swim in the river at four years old. I remember that.
- [00:06:26.95] INTERVIEWER 2: So those sound like some special times for you. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Do you have any special events or special days that you remember spending time with family when you were younger?
- [00:06:38.75] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, the special time was, dad would always tell you, if you want to go fishing, have the worms dug out of the garden or wherever, or go out and catch the nightcrawlers the night before and have our bait ready. And we were just beaming to wait for him there to get off work so we could go fishing. And that was, I think with most all my siblings, most all at young age, we enjoyed fishing.
- [00:07:02.45] And my mother was a fisher person, if you will. And so she could out-fish any of us. She just had that touch, you know. But those were very instrumental times. And then Sunday school picnics, I remember that being very-- looking forward to that kind of thing.
- [00:07:20.40] Really wasn't that big on Christmas, but Christmas, like any other kid, I can remember the times laying there, just couldn't sleep. However little you got or however much you got, it was still a fun time. So I think those were probably as a youngster.
- [00:07:36.56] And then, of course, I learned to swim early, and I love swimming. And I swam through school, and I swam as a youngster when it wasn't fashionable for African Americans to swim for the YMCA, which is the old Y that's across from the county building on Fourth Avenue. I swam in competition with several other kids from the Dunbar Center, who we would go to the Y from Mr. Doug Williams's efforts, which is now the Ann Arbor Community Center, but back then it was the Dunbar Center, located at Kinglsey and Fourth Ave.
- [00:08:12.95] INTERVIEWER 2: So you mentioned Christmas a little bit ago. How are holidays, or how traditionally celebrated in your family?
- [00:08:21.57] RUSSELL CALVERT: Today, or as a child?
- [00:08:23.29] INTERVIEWER 2: As a child.
- [00:08:24.53] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, it was like everybody else. Everybody knew it was holiday time. When I was a child, the spiritual end wasn't probably the forefront. But the nice times of the extra baking, the food, the decorating, Christmas Eve-- we never put our tree up until Christmas Eve-- decorating the tree, and it would stay up for one week. New Year's Day, it came down. No matter what, it came down New Year's Day. So it was up for one-- it's not like Thanksgiving to Christmas time, to the 25th.
- [00:09:03.50] There again, it was filled with a lot of fun things, looking forward, and a joyful time. It wasn't always as pleasant as-- the question, kind of what pleasantries-- there's always the downside too. But we had a great time.
- [00:09:26.98] INTERVIEWER 2: Did your family create any of its own traditions or celebrations?
- [00:09:32.49] RUSSELL CALVERT: Not that I can remember, anything just in a tradition, not at home, at that time, as a child. No, it was just a time of the year, like everybody else, the major holidays, there was always something going on, but nothing just in a traditional way that we'd do all the time.
- [00:09:59.11] INTERVIEWER 2: You might have answered this a little bit earlier, but just what was the highest grade you completed?
- [00:10:02.48] RUSSELL CALVERT: The highest grade I completed was the 12th grade, and then I had some junior college background. And then I used to like to say I graduated from the school of hard knocks in business. Because as you know, when you go into business, you think you know, but anybody that's going into business, you better have a relationship with a bank, and a good attorney, and a good accountant. Well, most people don't have that advice back then. Now, yes, but back then, you didn't know that.
- [00:10:34.55] You just, I'm going to do something, and you'd do the best you could to make it successful. But I learned. School of hard knocks teaches you very well, very quickly. And so you learn from your mistakes and you keep moving.
- [00:10:54.23] INTERVIEWER 2: Well, you told us a lot about-- this next question is asking about if you played any sports or other activities outside of school. I know you told us a lot about you love to swim. You used to swim with the YMCA.
- [00:11:02.94] RUSSELL CALVERT: Yeah, I used to swim with the Y, played junior high school football, some high school football, wrestled in high school. My junior senior year was a turmoil time for me. In the old school, they would say, when you start feeling like you're becoming a man, and you think you're not going to listen.
- [00:11:33.13] And my dad was one that says, well, either you listen-- this is my house. You're living under this roof. It's either my way or the highway. And a lot of us back when I was a teenager, or a young high school person, I could be just bullheaded enough to say, well, I'm going to try the highway.
- [00:11:53.41] And as a result-- my older sister was married, so she said, no, you're not going out all by yourself. You come over and live with me. So my last half of my junior and senior year, I stayed with my sister and brother in law, which was a good thing. My sister reached back and said, come here. I'm not going to let you get out here go awry here. So I hope that puts a light on your question.
- [00:12:23.04] INTERVIEWER 2: Staying with school for a minute, what about your school experience do you think is different from school as you know it today.
- [00:12:31.77] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, if I had to go backwards, I'd be a lot more of a scholar than I was. I would have probably studied a lot harder. For my four brothers and sisters, school was easy. They were very, very quick of wit, and very smart kids.
- [00:12:51.90] I found it very hard to focus, so it made school difficult for me, not to say that I didn't get school. I mean, I taught myself more out of school than I did in kindergarten through 12. But I did retain a lot of things, but it came back to me later.
- [00:13:12.65] And just so I found it kind of difficult, because I was a slow reader at first. Now, I think I probably could read with anybody. But as a child, I can remember first and second grade, I think was the-- and third grade were the hardest for me, because I didn't learn at the pace that a lot of my peers did.
- [00:13:34.48] So they had the first, second, and third grade reading classes. I don't know whether you're old enough to remember those or not, but I am. And the third reading class seemed to never get the attention that the first and the second reading class got. So it was kind of like a downer to that child. The teacher didn't-- I don't know whether they realized it, or maybe they did. But those memories weren't good for me, but I overcame them through hard work and through life experiences.
- [00:14:07.95] And I grew up real quick at 17 years old, going into the Navy and getting out just before my 21st birthday. I grew up with men. So it was what would have been my college time. I think it did me well.
- [00:14:24.76] INTERVIEWER 2: I know you said a couple things. You mentioned you grew up in the school of hard knocks. You mentioned your dad like a "my way or the highway" was kind of like a saying. Were there any other special kind of saying that you heard, that your family had when you were growing up that you can remember?
- [00:14:42.71] RUSSELL CALVERT: Oh, there were probably a kazillion of them, but to bring them to forefront right now, you know-- I probably could sit here and think about it some, but it just doesn't come to my forefront for it right here.
- [00:14:58.43] INTERVIEWER 2: This next question's asking if there were any changes in your family life during your school years. I know you mentioned moving in with your older sister.
- [00:15:05.81] RUSSELL CALVERT: Yeah. About the middle way through my junior high school years, my dad and I got in a really heated argument. And it was the best thing for me to do, and for him. And later in life, he offered me the opportunity to come back and work with him, because I think at that time, I had been accepted. I was working.
- [00:15:31.07] I didn't have the worst grades in the world, but they were good enough to get into Wilberforce, Ohio Central State. And I was accepted at Central State. And my intent was to go on to college. But with the outs that at that time my father and I had, and my brother-in-law had went to Wilberforce. And if you know, Wilberforce and Central State are basically the same campus across the street from each other.
- [00:15:55.38] He had me lined up to work to help me work my way through college. And all I asked my dad at that time-- dad, if I fall short on my tuition, would you help me? And the answer was no. And that's demoralizing to a kid that's on the fence to whether to go on into college or not. So I opted to join Uncle Sam's Navy.
- [00:16:22.26] Hindsight's 20/20. Maybe I could have went down and, would you take a 17-year-old kid that's going to go out of state to school without some assurances that somebody's going to help you out a little bit if you get in a tight-- at that time, I made the decision. I don't look back. I don't regret it. But when I did come back out of the service and got back to Ann Arbor, my dad offered me a chance to come back and work with him, and I never looked back.
- [00:16:47.01] He said, do my work, and anything else that you want to extra work Sundays, Saturdays, or after time that we get our work done, you're welcome to go do it. Well, somebody gave me that opportunity. It was like giving the horse reins and saying, hey, run for all you're worth.
- [00:17:02.98] And it was successful over the time of my lifetime. And I put four kids through college, and have four beautiful grandchildren and one on the way. So I'm not one to look back and say would've, should've, could've. I think I made the most of what I had opportunity to do.
- [00:17:28.44] INTERVIEWER 2: Thinking back on school, what important social or historical events were taking place at the time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:17:41.02] RUSSELL CALVERT: Historical events, oh boy. Well, I think the togetherness of the African American family at the potlucks and the Dunbar Center being a center of our area to where we had a Boy Scout troop, we had a Cub Scout troop. We learned how to play pool, we learned how to play ping pong. We learned and reading groups. I can remember Ronnie Span and I in a reading group. It was probably first graders-- kindergarten, first grade, second grade-- every couple three times a week at the center.
- [00:18:25.49] The center was always a place you could go, and these little singing groups we were in, the little choruses or chorales, if you will, and the clubs. So the center as I grew up in Ann Arbor, that was really a bright spot. And most of the kids-- not just myself, but most of the guys and girls that I grew up with that are still living and I'm still in contact with remember the community center, Dunbar Center. I think I've answered part of your question. I don't know whether I did all of it.
- [00:19:00.00] INTERVIEWER 2: It's asking about what social or historical events were going on at the time when you were in school, and then how did they personally affect you and your family? It sounded like the community centers and the Cub Scout and the groups really were something that was really important to you.
- [00:19:17.02] RUSSELL CALVERT: Yeah, because all the parents in the Boy Scouts, we had paper drives back then. Now, don't forget, we're not too far post-war when I was a child. So we had paper drives.
- [00:19:29.34] The University of Michigan at that time had every Boy Scout troop within the Washtenaw County area-- it might have been more than just Washtenaw County-- but each section, a troop-- like our troop was 75. We had part of that stadium then. We were ushers. We ushered at every home game at Michigan back in the day.
- [00:19:49.95] But those were the days when Michigan only filled that stadium three times a year, and iffy on Minnesota. But the ones that I remember coming in were Band Day, Michigan State, and Ohio State. And homecoming for Michigan back then was Minnesota usually. And they always the wound up with a little brown jug.
- [00:20:11.91] But going back to the center, that was the base of our troop. So yes, that was a highlight, because every youngster in my age group that was a Boy Scout, and that was most of us in our area, really grew to look forward to that.
- [00:20:33.15] INTERVIEWER 2: So this next question says, you lived during the era of segregation.
- [00:20:39.74] RUSSELL CALVERT: Oh, by all means, yes.
- [00:20:41.37] INTERVIEWER 2: Can you talk about that?
- [00:20:43.58] RUSSELL CALVERT: Oh, yeah. I can tell you restaurants here in Ann Arbor we could not go to. We were not welcome. I can remember my sister going to the drugstore on Main Street, and they had an ice cream counter. And we would go up to get some ice cream, and she would get served in a paper cup. And a little Caucasian girl would go in and get served in a nice China or whatever the serving utensils were at the time.
- [00:21:19.95] I remember being called out of my name, which was back then, really demoralizing to a young kid that didn't understand. You knew where you were, you knew who you were, and your parents are tough on you because of the fact that you didn't put yourself out to where bad things would happen to you.
- [00:21:43.60] So yes, it was a tough time. It was not a fair time. But you learned to deal with it, and I'm sure a lot of other kids that grew up with me, but we didn't let that stop us. Because like I said, we went to integrated schools, so every day we were sitting in the same classroom, in an integrated classroom.
- [00:22:08.63] So we knew it was there, but kids will be kids. And if other people leave kids alone, they'll do just fine. But you know, I can speak to that. And I think when I relate back to pride, you can't take pride from someone. Just like if somebody can learn, you can't take that from them. Once they learn something, they've got it, and we just kept moving, kept doing what we had to do to survive, and looked forward to a job.
- [00:22:42.53] I remember I started my first job. My first real job, where they took money out of my pocket, was at the Ann Arbor Y. And very few people remember, I was a projectionist on Saturday mornings showing the movies. And a fellow named Ken Calico, who still lives in the area, taught me how to run the projector. And when he moved on-- he was a couple years older than me-- then that was my first job where I actually started having withholdings taken out of my check.
- [00:23:18.57] And then I went from there to dishwasher at Camp Birkett, which is the Y camp. And I went to the camp for one session, and worked there two sessions, so very instrumental going back then. But there again, we were in an integrated camp, we knew segregation was there, but when you get kids together going to camp like that, it's usually a pretty fun time.
- [00:23:48.66] INTERVIEWER 2: You just mentioned you went to an integrated school. How did you get to school?
- [00:23:54.35] RUSSELL CALVERT: Walked. We didn't have any snow days when I was a kid. There was no such thing as a snow day. And I hear of snow days, and I say what? What's up with this? We enjoyed the snow. I can remember many, many, many times the snow blowing and blizzards, but you walked to school. School was open.
- [00:24:17.28] INTERVIEWER 2: Who were the teachers?
- [00:24:19.52] RUSSELL CALVERT: Oh, boy. Now you really-- [LAUGHS] I don't remember my kindergarten teacher's name, but one of my first grade teachers' name was Mrs. Anderson. And Mrs. Donnelly was our second grade teacher, and she taught all of my brothers and sisters.
- [00:24:42.92] Third grade-- I can see faces but I can't remember the names. Fourth, fifth and sixth, I don't really remember. I can remember some of the junior high school teachers. Emerson Powrie was our-- the two principles I can remember was Mr. Maybee and Emerson Powrie. And he was just a super man.
- [00:25:11.13] He had a lot of respect for people. He talked to you and didn't make you feel like you were beneath him. And then we had a custodian, and you've probably heard his name-- Mr. Pitts. Mr. Pitts was the custodian.
- [00:25:26.71] Well, back then, Mr. Pitts was like your father on duty, because he'd paddle your little rump if you got out of line. And he'd call your day and say-- my dad's name was Edward Burgess, but everybody called him Burgess. And he would call my dad if I got out of line and say, "hey, Russ got out of line and I put the paddle to him." My dad would say "thanks for calling me.
- [00:25:45.98] It wasn't, I'm going to come and get you because you paddled my child. It was just the old saying of the village raising kids. Well, Mr. Pitts was well respected, a well, well respected man. And what he said, most kids perked up and listened.
- [00:26:03.08] INTERVIEWER 1: Were any of the teachers African American during your time of going to school?
- [00:26:06.28] RUSSELL CALVERT: No. If my memory serves me right, Mr. Harry Mial was the first-- I believe the first African American teacher in the Ann Arbor public school system, as well as my brother was the first fireman in the city of Ann Arbor, my brother Don, my older brother. He will be 80 in June. But he was the first African American fireman in this city, at the main fire station, the old, which is now the Hands-On Museum. He was at that station, right after they built the new station. I think the new part of that station was built early '60s.
- [00:26:45.60] INTERVIEWER 2: You went to an integrated school. Were there any other high schools around that were specifically for blacks students?
- [00:26:54.71] RUSSELL CALVERT: No. I think Ypsi-- not Ypsi High, but Harriet School in Ypsi was predominantly black, with a lot of black teachers, but not here in Ann Arbor. No.
- [00:27:10.01] Most of the kids that I knew and grew up with went to either Jones or Mack and Perry. And there were the very few children that went to Perry. But the kids that lived over in the Woodlawn, Hoover, Green Street area went to Perry School, because Perry was right there at Packard, Packard Hill, I believe it is, and Fourth Avenue in that-- it's now a university building, but across from Crazy Jim's, the corner there. But no, everybody went to an integrated school, no all-black African American schools at that time.
- [00:27:58.80] INTERVIEWER 1: And just to follow up, there's a couple additional things. You mentioned that there were some restaurants that didn't accommodate blacks when you were growing up. But were there other places that did? Were there restaurants and such that did, or places that African Americans could stay if they came to town to visit?
- [00:28:20.07] RUSSELL CALVERT: No. No, the students at the University of Michigan even stayed with black homeowners. My uncle owned a house on Hill and Greene. His name happened to be Bill Thomas. And he housed Michigan football players and different athletes over on Glen Street.
- [00:28:46.07] There were several homes, Glen and Ann and Catherine. There were homes there that were open to black students, because obviously, black students weren't on campus. They couldn't stay on campus.
- [00:28:59.21] And I can remember as a child-- and a lot of people might not remember this-- but Tulane would not come and play Michigan if they had their black football players dressed. Now, I can remember that as a little, little kid. And we grew up going to football games on Saturday, because you could get in. And after everybody had paid tickets, the ushers would always say, go in and go sit down.
- [00:29:21.43] We'd go sit in the end zone and watch the games. And I referred to when they didn't fill the stadium up. Well, the end zones were never filled up, except for about three games a year.
- [00:29:32.76] INTERVIEWER 1: Do you remember when that changed in terms of when there were times when the university did start to accommodate black students on campus?
- [00:29:49.96] RUSSELL CALVERT: I can't say for sure, but I think it was middle '50s, middle to late '50s. Because I know some friends of mine that graduated in '50, graduated from Pioneer in '57, '58, and '59 who were Kappas. They had a Kappa house up on Hill Street. And at that time, the housing, and you could stay throughout the campus. And I think it would be mid to late '50s is when that started opening up where kids could come and actually be housed on the campus.
- [00:30:34.96] INTERVIEWER 1: Do you need me to move here for the mic, or is this mic picking up me if I if I--
- [00:30:39.51] MALE SPEAKER: That mic is picking you up.
- [00:30:40.85] INTERVIEWER 1: OK, great. So we're going to move to talking about adulthood, marriage, and family life. And this set of questions covers a fairly long period of time, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force or started a family, until all of your children left home and you and your spouse retired. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades.
- [00:31:07.97] So after you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:31:12.96] RUSSELL CALVERT: When I finished high school, I went right into Uncle Sam's Navy. I was in the Navy from July 6, 1960 through October 28, 1963. In fact, I got out just before President Kennedy got assassinated. I was working in South Gate, California at the time for Stauffer Chemical Company when that happened.
- [00:31:37.95] INTERVIEWER 1: And what was your experience in the military?
- [00:31:40.91] RUSSELL CALVERT: For the most part, I enjoyed the Navy. There again, segregation was still pretty prominent. We were on a boat. You're on an integrated boat, but it wasn't integrated. The white guys would eat with themselves, and most of the black guys would stay to theirselves.
- [00:32:04.25] But when it came to general quarters-- I don't know if you were in the service-- that is the combat readiness on a ship. They call it GQ. Well, when I'm sitting beside you as a Caucasian, and what you do and what I do have to make good that we both live, then that brings together the separation, should I say. And so you're a family on a ship. You knew the friction was there, but you knew you had to do your job for the good of the whole ship.
- [00:32:41.82] I happened to be auxiliary. My job was auxiliary, where we repaired pumps. We stood watch on the boilers. We stood watch at the engines.
- [00:32:52.96] We also made fresh water. We ran a piece of equipment they call the evaporator. And anybody that has any engineering background knows an evaporator. You'd actually cook the salt out and the salt deposits, and then after you steam it out, you come out with fresh water.
- [00:33:09.94] And underway-- when I say underway, that's when the ship was out to sea-- those are the things that you run your evaporators. When you're moored or swinging into what they call shore, or on a pier, you hook up to power. You hook up your fresh water. But when you're underway, that's the things that we did. We took care of all the auxiliary refrigeration, all the auxiliary equipment.
- [00:33:34.45] Even the motor launch, I was engineer. Motor launch would take your captain into the pier if you're swearing off a buoy, or wherever you were at. My first duty station was amphibious warfare demolition, so I was engineer on what they call a personal landing craft-- PR. And that was developed to work with the UDT at that time.
- [00:33:58.85] INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you. So when you finished with the Navy, you came back to Ann Arbor?
- [00:34:03.50] RUSSELL CALVERT: No, I stayed in Los Angeles for a little over year, about a year and a half. I worked for Stauffer Chemical Company. And then one day-- I had gotten married out there, and marriage kind of went on the rocks a little bit, so I said, I'm not going to stay out here. I didn't have any family out there. I had one uncle that lived in the south side of Los Angeles.
- [00:34:28.27] So I decided to come back to Michigan at that time. About six months or so later, my wife and I kind of patched things up. So she came she moved and relocated here, and I worked for King Seeley Thermos. From there, I went to Ford Motor Company.
- [00:34:47.17] I worked for Motor Company for about two years. And at that time, at the end of that two years, my dad said, you know, you ought to get out of that. I was working in a foundry. And if you ever worked in a foundry, or you know anything about a foundry, it is not the cleanest environment in the world. You're breathing in all this dust from the coke dust, and just years and years of that in a real dusty application. So
- [00:35:13.41] That's when I came to work for my dad, and also for myself. I worked at his work first, and then I had the opportunity to start building a little extra work on my own. And that's where my self-employment really took off. Of course now, I was a self-employed lawn man, had a little lawn service when I was in high school too.
- [00:35:39.88] INTERVIEWER 1: You were very entrepreneurial.
- [00:35:41.29] RUSSELL CALVERT: I took care of a lot of lawns and I had a couple guys help me. And we were good at what we did, because back then you learned that you didn't do things halfway. I could put it a little more strongly than that. But you were taught that if it's worth doing, do it right.
- [00:35:58.91] INTERVIEWER 1: Can you tell us a little more about your married family life? First, maybe tell us about how did you meet your spouse.
- [00:36:08.60] RUSSELL CALVERT: I actually met my first wife through her brother, who, he and I were stationed on the same ship. And we were on what they call a tin can, a destroyer. And he was from Los Angeles, and we were stationed in San Diego.
- [00:36:23.03] And so one weekend liberty, he said, why don't you come and go to Los Angeles with me. You know, we've got a couple nice clubs up there, and blah, blah, blah this. And I said, OK. Nothing else to do.
- [00:36:34.50] So I went up, and several times went up, and then finally one time we went by his mom's house. And through the time of going, I met his sister, and then that kind of started evolving. But anyway, I was married to her for 13 years, had three daughters-- Nannette, Larina, and Asha.
- [00:36:55.75] And after the 13th year, we just couldn't hit it. And so I decided to make a move, and I made a move, and then found my second wife, and we now have a little boy with a little grandchild-- her first grandchild on the way. And we've been married now for 35 years.
- [00:37:17.19] I never, never went away from my children. Pride-- as a youngster, you take care of your own. I put all four of my children through college. They all have degrees. One has an MBA. The other two are RNs.
- [00:37:35.32] And my son is a dual license attorney, Michigan and Illinois. He lives over in Western Springs, Illinois, and he works in Chicago for a small firm. He worked here in Michigan for Dickinson Wright, and then he had a long distance love relationship with his girlfriend, so he finally said, I've got to move to Chicago. And he took the bar and passed that. So it's kind of nice to be able to practice Michigan law as well as Illinois law.
- [00:38:02.21] INTERVIEWER 1: So I'm going to back up a tiny bit and ask what was life like when your kids were small, and what did your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still at home?
- [00:38:12.46] RUSSELL CALVERT: I'm an outdoors man. I'm a camper. I've been a hunter all my life, since nine years old, been a fisherman since I was probably three and a half, four years old, enough to hold my own little fishing rod. And I've always been around water, so bringing my kids up, we'd always go camping.
- [00:38:32.86] Can't get them in the woods now, except for my son. He loves to camp. And he married a young lady that was raised in Seattle, from Chicago but she was raised and went to school in Seattle. She loves to camp.
- [00:38:42.63] So camping and outdoors, fishing, hunting are the-- if you will, if you say vices, that's my vice. I'm not a gambler. I don't go to bars, and I'm not a big-- I go to some plays, but I just love the outdoors. And I have dogs. I have hunting dogs, pointers, and then I have rabbit dogs, little beagles.
- [00:39:08.39] But that's the things that we came up-- and I love to barbecue. We'd always have the major holidays, I'd always cook. And whenever I call the kids up now and say, I'm cooking fish on such and such a date, I don't have any trouble with the door being-- they say, yep, we're here. [LAUGHS]
- [00:39:30.60] INTERVIEWER 1: And were there any special days, events, or family traditions you practiced that were different from your childhood traditions?
- [00:39:39.89] RUSSELL CALVERT: When my kids were young, we really, really celebrated their birthdays. And that's carried on now into my grandchildren. That's a big thing with them, and they all--
- [00:39:51.70] INTERVIEWER 1: Is that different from when you were--
- [00:39:53.56] RUSSELL CALVERT: Yeah, that was much different. You might get a cake or you might get a candle or something. Or you might get a little extra ice cream or something, but it wasn't a big thing in our household. But my kids--
- [00:40:06.77] INTERVIEWER 1: You established it.
- [00:40:07.99] RUSSELL CALVERT: Established it, and they've carried it on. My oldest is 48 and my youngest will be 33 in September. And it's a tradition.
- [00:40:20.26] INTERVIEWER 2: Well, this next section talks a little bit more about work and retirement. So like we were saying before, it covers a pretty long period of your life, from when you first started working until now.
- [00:40:35.72] So you've told us about a lot of what you did for a living, and how you got started with working for your dad, and then becoming an entrepreneur yourself. Could you tell us a little bit more about what got you interested in being that entrepreneur? I know you mentioned for your dad, from what I heard, it sounded like you said your dad had a-- not that he didn't like being told what to do, but he wanted to work more for himself.
- [00:41:00.24] RUSSELL CALVERT: Yeah, and that rubbed off on me. And it rubbed off on all my siblings. Business gives you an opportunity. I think you get out of it what you put into it. And believe me, I ate and slept business at a time--
- [00:41:25.07] Just to kind of give you a history, I've been in landscaping business. My brothers and I owned a car wash. I owned a drive through beer vault here in Ann Arbor. I was in the snow removal business. We built our own containers at my company, because of my mechanical background. I had my own fleet of trucks. And these things all gave you an opportunity.
- [00:41:59.70] That was a tool. Some people like cars to look real nice and kind of flashy. And well, a vehicle to me is a tool. So I think business gives you the opportunity to do what you want to do, but you have to have the discipline to stick with it and know when you cut it off.
- [00:42:20.26] I can remember many times as a young man my buddies wanting to go party. And I'd say, man, I've got to work Saturday morning. You guys have a good time. I'm working. Because I had a mission. So I think that pretty much covers it.
- [00:42:35.18] Now, I've done a lot of different things. I just named a named a few. They were not all successful. But they happened. And you kind of get your niche, and you find out which one's more profitable, and you kind of stick with it.
- [00:42:55.13] INTERVIEWER 2: So you did. You described a whole list of different jobs that you've had, or different businesses that you've started. In thinking about all that, what was the typical day like?
- [00:43:04.71] RUSSELL CALVERT: Oh my goodness. I can remember, normally five o'clock in the morning to eating my dinner at 9:30, 10:00 at night, mostly. And very little, maybe watch the news and five hours' sleep or so, and back up. And you can work seven days a week if you had to, if that's what it called for.
- [00:43:27.55] If you worked all day to day, and we had a snowstorm a four o'clock in the evening or 5 o'clock, by the time 10 o'clock comes around and you've got enough snow to push, then you worked all night. And you worked until your customers-- you're in a service business, so no one wants to hear a telephone call, well, I'm tired. You can't perform this service.
- [00:43:48.00] So an average day for me was probably anywhere from 16 to 18 hours. And that's nothing. Eight hours to me is like, if I work eight hours and I say, man, it's an awful short day. So I never, never got my mindset wrapped around just an eight-hour day.
- [00:44:11.84] And I shouldn't say never, because when I worked for Ford, I was wrapped around that I was going to work eight hours, and then if they gave me an hour overtime, that kind of thing. But when you become self-employed, that mindset should go out the window. Because I don't know too many successful people that work eight hours a day, and being self-employed.
- [00:44:32.89] INTERVIEWER 2: Do you know what the biggest difference is in your main field of employment from the time you started until now? Like differences in the industry, or how things work?
- [00:44:46.40] RUSSELL CALVERT: The capital investment and the cost of operation would be the two biggest things that I'm glad I'm out. I got out just as the downturn started to hit. I'm still working. I still kept the right to do recycling, some recycling, so I'm buying and selling still on occasion. And I kept a small amount of equipment, so I'm not one to sit around.
- [00:45:16.44] I think idleness-- when you work this body and your mindset is going all the time, and all of a sudden you just set it up, it's just like a car. If you set that car up for five years, something's going wrong. And I feel that I'm vibrant. I feel good. I'm 70 years old, but I hunt hard. I work hard.
- [00:45:36.87] When I play, I play hard. When I work, I work hard. But I don't I don't put work as the first thing anymore. If somebody calls me and I'm doing something of my hobby or something I like to do, I always try to set it up on an appointment, more of a custom type thing. But I still keep the focus.
- [00:45:52.61] I was up this morning at 5:15, walked on the treadmill this morning. Tomorrow I've got to be up, and I've got to be in Detroit by 8 o'clock in the morning, when this place opens. So I mean, I'm just on the go. And to me, that's retirement. Retirement's not to sit around, not for me.
- [00:46:14.56] INTERVIEWER 2: Work hard, play hard, you say. You gave a little insight into this, when you were responding just now. But what do you value the most about what you did for a living and why?
- [00:46:32.17] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, I made a good living. And I like to know that I had a business that was built with respect. And the people who used my service knew it was respect. And I had a lot of workers I've sent down the road because they didn't feel like I felt. And I would always hold that pedestal at a certain level.
- [00:46:57.70] You don't have to be a heavyweight fighter, but you've got to be a heavyweight in your own weight class. Now, there are big people like Waste Management, back then, Browning-Ferris Industries, and all these big-- I never worried about those people, because I knew I could give a better service than them.
- [00:47:15.21] Because when the people rang my phone and they needed to talk to the owner, they talked to the owner. They would always get a call back. You call one of these big companies. "I want to talk to the owner." "Well, I'll give you the manager." Well, the manager's not the one writing the checks. So I've always kept that focus.
- [00:47:34.44] We were a little company, but we always kept our reputation is worth more money you spend on any advertisement is word of mouth. And that was always instilled as a youngster to an adult. And I tried to instill that onto my children and people who work for me. It's pride in what you do.
- [00:47:56.98] INTERVIEWER 1: Now you're lucky if you can talk to anybody on any phone anywhere.
- [00:48:01.78] RUSSELL CALVERT: [LAUGHS] The prompts.
- [00:48:06.25] INTERVIEWER 2: The way you described your business sounds like a competitive edge, I tell you what. People want to talk to the owner, and then being able to actually talk to the owner, that's a valuable thing.
- [00:48:17.57] RUSSELL CALVERT: That is a valuable thing. That's why we never went to automated answering. Sure, you save money. But sometimes it's not always that buck, because you can make that other buck. You know what I'm saying. You save money in one way, but you lose that personal contact. And when you're in a service business, people gravitate to that personal side of your business if they can talk to someone, a live body.
- [00:48:46.69] INTERVIEWER 2: You mentioned that you put your kids through school. So they're adults, and now they're doing their own thing. How did life change for you and your spouse when the kids moved out?
- [00:49:05.31] RUSSELL CALVERT: Boy, I've had an empty nest now. My son graduated from Michigan State-- well, he went to Michigan State, graduated from high school in '98. So we've actually had an empty nest for quite a little while.
- [00:49:19.29] But the communication with my kids is always there. And I've always kept that door open. I can remember, even my girls, when they were going through their teenage years and stuff, I'd always tell them, don't be the follower. You've got a head on your shoulders. And if you see trouble, if you even suspect it, you get away from whoever you're away from.
- [00:49:43.19] You get on that phone. I don't care if you're in Timbuktu. I'm coming to get you. I'm going to make sure you get to a safe haven. And I instilled that in my son. I don't want you being a follower. And I always tried to let him know that.
- [00:49:56.77] Police officers have a tough job. But remember one thing. You never get smart with a police officer, because there's no one in this world can set you up better than a police officer and his buddy if they want to do that. So you always keep yourself in a level position-- yes sir, no sir, and respectful.
- [00:50:18.15] That's what a lot of these children today have lost is respect. And I don't want to-- if I'm on camera, I don't want to minimize, because there's lot of great kids out here today that are trying to do right things. But I see so much of this disrespect of themselves.
- [00:50:34.54] And the young ladies today, I mean, my goodness. And looking back, I've always tried to-- my one daughter, youngest daughter, she came in one day-- and she's not living with me-- and she had a stud in her nose. And my comment to her was when she was in my presence, I said, either you take it out or I'm taking it out. You have your choice, but it's coming out. And I said, as long as you're in my presence, I don't want to see it.
- [00:51:01.65] And today, she does not wear this stud, and this when she was probably 14. She's now 36. So it all goes hand in hand. You establish your thoughts and what you want, or try to help your children realize what the world's all about. And that's the way I did. Right or wrong, I did it, and that's the way I felt.
- [00:51:30.29] INTERVIEWER 2: When thinking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place at the time while you were working? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:51:46.35] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, historically, when you go back, and as I had a young family when the marches, the Selmas, Martin Luther King's speech at the Washington Monument, a lot of these things weighed very-- are still very prevalent in my mind, because I grew up through that, and I had a family.
- [00:52:13.13] I go back to when I lived in Detroit. I lived in Detroit and I moved away from Detroit just before the riots in '67, when the riots hit. And talking about historic things, and I think what Dr. King did was, just can't say enough. Can't say enough.
- [00:52:39.39] That instilled pride in a lot of people who never had pride, never knew what it was to be prideful, in respect to some of the people who weren't privileged and just historically, I think those are the historical parts that are really still bright and fresh in my mind. And the other part of that?
- [00:53:05.49] INTERVIEWER 2: And how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:53:09.66] RUSSELL CALVERT: I think they opened up a lot of opportunity. I mean, there's no question about it. It opened up a lot of opportunity for not just me, but for everybody that I knew, and especially with the schooling opportunities.
- [00:53:27.36] When I heard about bussing kids, when you stop, go back, and you think about bussing, well, hey, I came up in an integrated school. So it didn't really hit me as hard, or it wasn't the, oh boy, I'm getting ready to go across town. I think in a lot of ways, that displaced or didn't do a lot of good service to some kids that have to get on a bus and go somewhere else that they didn't want to be. I think they'd have been a lot better off if they'd have made quality teachers in those areas where the kids were, although integration was great, and opportunity. But that's just my opinion, on my side of it.
- [00:54:08.72] But I think it was a good thing, because it actually made people remember that no matter what you bring from the outside, it's the inward that people should measure. And that has to go back with Dr. King. It's the content of your character.
- [00:54:31.44] And I have a lot of Caucasian friends, believe me. And I respect them. They respect me. People don't respect me, move on. I push them to the side, adios, and I just do my thing. I deal with people on a level playing field. I don't believe in that stacked deck stuff.
- [00:55:00.08] INTERVIEWER 1: Well, that's a good segue into our final part, which is can you tell us how it has been, or how it is for you to live in this community? I know that's a big question, but you can say whatever you want about it.
- [00:55:14.93] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, I'm proud of the way I was raised. This community has always been in the shadow of the university, the kids that come up in this community. We've worked and made a lot of money with people because of the transiency of the university in and out.
- [00:55:38.22] Ann Arbor has grown because the quality of life of this city is bar none. Ann Arbor's a great place to live. It's how you live in Ann Arbor. You can be an ostrich if you want to and put your head in a hole, or you can get out and read and find out-- I mean, you've got everything in this area that a person could ever want-- the Power Center, not just the football games and the basketball games, but the university's always got something going-- the Top of the Park. You've got a good park system.
- [00:56:16.43] When we grew up, the ponds were frozen for ice skating free from the city every winter. I can remember ice skating Thanksgiving time when I was a child. I grew up playing hockey. I was one of two first African Americans to play organized hockey in this city, at the building down on-- it's right next to the Fingerle Lumber Company now. It's called the Coliseum. Michigan used to play their hockey games there prior to Yost Fieldhouse.
- [00:56:51.62] Living in this city, you had a lot of opportunities. Sure, we've come through an era, a time when it wasn't so pretty. But we had values instilled from two parents, and other parents in the neighborhood that just-- there again, I have to go back to the Dunbar Center. It's because I can remember the potlucks and the get-togethers and the things like that, which helped kids bridge that little narrow part of the bridge where you might fall off this way or that way, and it just kind of helped you focus.
- [00:57:36.88] Ann Arbor, the climate--I tell people I like winter. They look at me, you must be crazy. I don't like a steady diet of warm weather. A lot of people do, but that's not me. I'm an outdoorsman. I never really learned how to ski, but I hunt, and I play hockey-- or used to play hockey. Put it that way.
- [00:57:53.08] I'm a dancer. I still take dancing lessons today. I go to dance class every Tuesday night-- but a well-rounded upbringing in this city. And if people take advantage of it, their kids should do well.
- [00:58:14.35] INTERVIEWER 1: And when thinking back over your life, what are you most proud of?
- [00:58:19.15] RUSSELL CALVERT: Well, I got a big sis. And she was on the faculty at the University of Michigan. She is Dr. Baker. I think out of our five kids-- and I'm proud of all my brothers and sisters, but she's got several degrees from the University of Michigan. She was the national director for the YWCA for years. She grew up here in Ann Arbor at the YWCA, which was actually right here across where the old Y was. Part of that was the YWCA campus.
- [00:59:00.98] She went on to be during Jimmy Carter's era to work for Jimmy Carter. She went on to New York to be vice president of Bank Street Literary College. She was the national director for, like I say, 13 years. She's been in almost every country as a guest of the governments of the world.
- [00:59:22.99] You say highlight. My big sis was my highlight. She kind of set the grid or the tone, if you will, of trying to better yourself, not being better than anybody, but better yourself, and to enjoy what life can give you, and never using the excuse "because I'm black." I never in my life ever used the fact, you're picking on me because I'm black. I don't buy that.
- [00:59:50.66] I buy this, is that give me the opportunity, and then get out of my way and see what I can do. Don't judge me by the outside of when I walk through the door, because you never know. And so the highlights of my life in growing up in Ann Arbor is that we learned that if you really work hard at something, you can do well at it.
- [01:00:16.16] INTERVIEWER 1: And what would you say has changed the most from the time you were a young person to now?
- [01:00:25.90] RUSSELL CALVERT: Now, that covers a broad spectrum. Now, are we talking about just life in general?
- [01:00:31.86] INTERVIEWER 1: Whatever you want to define it.
- [01:00:34.60] RUSSELL CALVERT: I think the dot com era, it's been great. But to a degree, I think when I go make change with a child and there's something wrong with that cash register, and they can't count, that's a travesty to the child. That's my thought.
- [01:00:55.14] I still think you need to keep the calculator out of math class. And kids need to learn how to take that pencil and paper and do all their work, and then bring the calculator in. We'd have been crucified by our teachers if we would have tried to bring a calculator in a math class.
- [01:01:16.71] And the dot com era is great, but everybody can't be the chiefs, so to speak. You still have to that person that knows how to fix that air conditioner, keep you warm, to work on your car. So you always have to have the person that has trades.
- [01:01:41.21] And then when they took trades out of the high schools, and when they took them out of junior high schools, I think as a people and as a country, we didn't do ourselves any great service. Because everybody's not going to be a Rhodes Scholar. And our people who hang the bar up, and say, OK, everybody test the same, that's wrong. They can't take a broad paint brush.
- [01:02:05.48] We've got five people in this room that I know of that I can see here right now. And we all learn at a different rate. We all have our talents. God has given us something. And I think that for everybody to kind of generalize something, in the computer world, or whatever, I don't like it. But I'm forced to live with it, and I deal with it.
- [01:02:32.41] I think it's a great thing. But then again I think we missed a little space in there somewhere. And I think we need to roll back and take a good look at our children. They talk about lost generations, and we talk about our music, because that's probably one of the biggest industries that we have.
- [01:02:54.39] And I'm not going to down all rap, because there are some good rap musics out there. Like I don't down all country, because country music is nothing but the blues with a twang, if you stop and really think about it. People just hear the country side of it. But if you listen to the lyric, blues and country are the exact same thing, you know. It's just, you've got a twang with the country, and you've got a blue, soulful beat with the blues.
- [01:03:26.51] So I don't like some of this, what we've allowed on air. I think it's distasteful. And I'm not a prude, because I can get in the alley just like anybody else. But there's a certain time that, I think, that should be censored. I hope I answered--
- [01:03:50.60] INTERVIEWER 1: And as a community elder, what advice would you give to the generations coming up? And you kind of have been--
- [01:03:57.55] RUSSELL CALVERT: Work hard, hard, hard in school. Give your kid the best chance they can have. Work with your children through preschool. Let them know that they're loved.
- [01:04:08.73] But I come from that firm, tough love. This time out thing doesn't work, in my book. I think as a young child, you teach them respect. And if they're taught respect when they're little, as they grow up, I'm going to respect your air space.
- [01:04:29.96] But if you just let them do what they want to do-- I used to tell my children, you're a name and a number. You're important to your family. When you get outside these doors and you go out in the street, or you go out in the work world, you are a name and a number. And every one of my children have come back and said, dad, you sure were right. We need more parents to think like that.
- [01:04:57.43] INTERVIEWER 1: And anything else that you want to share with us that we haven't asked you--
- [01:05:02.90] RUSSELL CALVERT: [LAUGHS] I think we covered a lot. If you keep your faith in the Lord, or whatever religion that you have, whatever faith you have, and you have humility, you learn humility as you grow up, and you keep that and be respectful of others and study hard, there's not too many things you can't do. I really believe that.
- [01:05:36.82] And that goes with honesty, you know. You just have to put your life around being honest with whatever it is, be straightforward and honest. And I think those things help most people get through life very well.
March 14, 2013 at the Downtown Library
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Calvert's Roll-Off Container Inc.
Recycle Ann Arbor
Judson Format Printing Inc.
Ford River Rouge Factory
Detroit Edison Company
Dunbar Community Center
Central State University (Ohio)
United States Navy
University of Michigan - Football
Cunningham's Drug Store
Ann Arbor YM-YWCA
Ann Arbor Fire Department
King-Seeley Thermos Co.
Ford Motor Company
Browning Ferris Industries
Ann Arbor Public Schools - Desegregation
University of Michigan - Students
1967 Detroit Riots
Fingerle Lumber Co.
University of Michigan Sports Coliseum
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
Russell Lee Calvert
Douglas E. H. Williams
Emerson F. Powrie
William O. Thomas II
Martin Luther King Jr.
Edward Burgess Calvert