Grinnell Hall's Kalkirtz ready to retire ... with no regrets
BELOIT On the front of his sweatshirt, John Kalkirtz wore a button that read "I Love Beloit." The back of the shirt proclaimed him a "recycled teenager."
"In every individual there's a youthful person," said Kalkirtz, the retiring executive director of the Grinnell Hall senior center.
The center's sociable and energetic leader took a break from his hectic schedule Wednesday to talk about his decision to retire Jan. 11.
"I did everything to develop comprehensive activities to meet the (members') needs and adapted with changes such as doing away with ceramics and adding whittling and woodcarving classes," Kalkirtz said.
And he has spent the last 24 years doing what he loves.
"It's a gift to be here, to do something in my life I choose and that somebody gave me the opportunity to do," he said. "The city has given me the gift of service to the community."
Kalkirtz, 66, was a nursing home administrator when he learned about the executive director opening from a fellow Beloit Optimist. When Kalkirtz mentioned he wanted to refocus his energy on the 50-and-older population, the other Optimist asked if he was serious.
Kalkirtz assured the man he was. When the city hired him, in part because of his numerous contacts with service organizations and his volunteerism in the community, he became the first man to lead the center.
"It was a paradigm for me," he said.
Kalkirtz said keeping up with trends and technology has been his biggest challenge, but he worked closely with "geeks" to help him help the population he served.
His biggest impact, he said, was providing the over-50 population with structure and stabilization when their lives were in disarray.
"It's important to help and provide information," he said.
With the help of a volunteer committee, Kalkirtz has spent the past five months working to get Grinnell Hall accredited by the Wisconsin Association of Senior Centers. Sources tell him approval will come through in January, which makes thrills him.
"For me, it's like the Cubs winning the World Series," he said.
It's also how he prepared for his successor.
"Going this route, it's here and all together," he said, proudly flipping through the pages of a large three-ring binder that details all aspects of his job.
Under Kalkirtz's watch the center also won a dozen silver stars from the Wisconsin Parks and Recreation Association for its quality programs. It also has won four awards for its Adopt-A-Cemetery Program, which recycles artificial flowers from the city's two cemeteries, turns them into floral arrangements and sells them.
Kalkirtz will spend his last week on the job training his replacement, who starts Jan. 7. Kalkirtz was not at liberty of provide a name.
"It's a seasoned veteran in this area who is knowledgeable of challenges facing this generation," Kalkirtz said.
Kalkirtz said he has no plans to leave the community.
"I belong to the Badger Chordhawks Chorus, I volunteer with the Beloit Optimists and support the Lions Club," he said. "I'm not leaving Beloit."
Kalkirtz also said he plans to use some of Grinnell Hall's programs and to stop in for meals once in a while.
"This really has been a wonderful adventure for me, and I know new, exciting things will happen with the new person who is going to take this place to new heights," he said.