Escondido Rotarian of the Year’ DeLisle Calac reflects on decades of service

DeLisle Calac receiving a resolution from Rincon vice chair, Tishmial Turner at Rotary’s Coeur de Cuisine in March.

Escondido was a very small town in the 1920’s. Anyone who lived there probably knew Edna and Saturnio Calac and their four kids, Lois, Leo, Donald, and DeLisle.  Saturnio was a member of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, and his wife, Edna, a member of the Pit River tribe.  In the 30’s, the town was living under the Great Depression’s shadow of poverty.  In the 40’s, the town was sacrificing for the European war effort.  By today’s standards, life was difficult.  Fear, loss of loved ones serving in the military, food, and gas rationing added to the burdens the community shared.  However, share they did — a lesson DeLisle Calac never forgot.

DeLisle Calac was born in Escondido, May 5, 1928, four years after the Escondido Rotary was chartered, a year after the second Escondido High School opened at the corner of Fourth and Hickory Streets, and a year before the great market crash of 1929. He was the youngest of the Calac children.  He recalls 88 years of growing up and working in Escondido, where he owned a successful plastering company, was an Elder in his church, an outstanding athlete, and friend of the town.

Calac, like his father and generations before him, is also a member of the Rincon Band, located on a 6,000-acre reservation in Valley Center, where he and his family have a well-established history of leadership going back generations.

Edna Calac chose to raise her children in the city. She wanted them to attend public schools, offering educational advantages that in those years were not available on Indian reservations.

A woman of strong beliefs, Edna ingrained a set of core values in her children.  She preached “THIS.”   According to Calac, “THIS was a code for life that was short for ‘Truth, Honesty, Industry, and Success,’ which exemplified expectations in the Calac household.

As an American Indian, Edna didn’t tolerate discrimination. “The only time I can remember my family encountering anything unpleasant was when my brother Leo was denied access to the public swimming pool because he was Indian.  My mom, being my mom, when she heard about it, went straight to the mayor.  After mom’s brief discussions with the appropriate officials, we did not face any further discrimination of which I was aware.

“When I was very young, during the 1930’s – 40’s most people were poor.  During the Great Depression, jobs were scarce and money hard to come by.  Then there was WWII. Because of rationing, you couldn’t buy things even if you had the money.

“We raised chickens.  Food was garden fresh.  It had to be; we didn’t own a refrigerator.  We lived in a tiny, two-bedroom house on 5th Street. It was crowded with six people.  However, most people lived in small houses. My brother, Don, and I got our first bedroom to ourselves when my older brother, Leo, joined the Army.

“I remember that people bartered. Neighbors shared milk, fruit, and vegetables with us.  Despite the circumstances, I don’t remember being hungry or thinking, we were poor or especially disadvantaged. In fact, I have good memories of my childhood, growing up in Escondido”

He loved the library, but it wasn’t for the books, it was for the toys. Toys were among the many things that were in short supply during those years.  The Escondido library had a collection of toys — from trucks and dolls to tricycles — on loan with a library card.

From a young boy’s perspective, the war fueled the imagination. “We considered it our patriotic duty to climb on Lincoln Elementary School roof to keep watch for enemy planes.  “This is one of the war-time spy-missions we kept from our parents,” confesses Calac.

“We were also the first generation to think that ducking under our desks, a drill for enemy bombers, was part of an ordinary school day.  There were blackouts – no lights at night. Windows were painted black. It was scary, but the times built neighborhood connections in ways need and our instincts for survival often do.”

During the war, the Kansas National Guard was camped between Redwood and Spruce Streets.  Their duty was to guard dams, power plants and other important infrastructure.    Calac laments that subsequent generations have no concept of those times.  “History gives us a sense of obligation — what we owe to those who sacrificed for us.  It also reminds us of our responsibilities to our communities, and country, as well as an appreciation for the lives we enjoy today.”

Nationwide, during the 1930’s, the average family income fell from $2,300 to $1,500 per year. On average, manufacturing employees earned about $17 per week. Agriculture, mainly citrus crops, was a big business in Escondido.  The work was hard and earnings seasonal.  Calac remembers everyone worked.  The Lemon House was one of the largest employers in town.  Even doctors, who had the highest incomes, were only earning $62 a week on the average.

What was rationing like? “Well,” remembers Calac, “Gas rationing was a big problem. It limited travel for high school sports competitions, visiting relatives, work, and education opportunities. I don’t think the word ‘vacation’ had been invented yet.”  Playing second base on the Escondido High School baseball team, he remembers a trip to play Julian.  The team bus ran out of gas and coasted through San Pasqual Valley, until the point where the team had to push the bus across the bridge to the gas station.

In June 1942, the Combined Food Board was established to coordinate the worldwide supply of food to the Allies, with special attention to flows from the U.S. and Canada to Britain. Americans started receiving ration books in 1942. The first was sugar, known as “War Ration Book Number One,” or the “Sugar Book.”  It was distributed by 100,000 schoolteachers, PTA groups, and other volunteers.

Bakeries, ice cream makers and other commercial users suffered with the reduction in sugar supplies. Coffee purchases were reduced to one pound every five weeks. By the end of 1942, ration coupons were required for other items — typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, silk, nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled, and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter.

“You went to work as soon as you were able, Calac remembers.  “In elementary school, I had a paper route, delivering the Times Advocate, sold magazines, ice cream, and picked lemons. When I was older, I did have one exciting stint as ‘volunteer fire chief” and the dispatcher when the Fire Chief was on vacation.”

Calac’s parents were devoted Christians, “Most of my life revolved around church and family.  Emanuel Faith Community Church is where I met one of my lifelong friends and fellow athlete— Chick Embrey. Everyone in Escondido knows Coach Embrey, and his record of winning football teams,” notes Calac, who, like Embrey, is a member of the Escondido High School Hall of fame.

“Fewer know of the personal time he invested in helping the young people he coached off the field. We played football, baseball, and basketball on church teams, in high school and at Fullerton Junior College together. I love the guy.  It’s a good thing, because as half back, I took many hits for him.”

According to Coach Embrey, Calac was an amazing athlete.  As a blocking back, he never missed a block.  “He was also a very good baseball player, and highly respected by his team mates at Fullerton.  In fact, his whole family was highly respected.  The Calacs, from mother and father, to the entire family, earned respect because of the type of people they were,” says Embrey, who adds, “DeLisle was my closest friend.  We grew up together. He was even in my wedding.”

The youngest Calac began his athletic career as a batboy playing in the Escondido city league with his dad and brothers on their church team named “Dunamis” or “dynamite” in Greek.

Not just a jock, Calac had a short-lived career as a prodigy violinist.  He explains that one day a man came to the house, rounding up kids to take violin lessons.  “Mom wanted my brother Don to take lessons, but he refused, so I was recruited at age seven.”  Thereafter, he practiced ½ hour every day and rode his bike to lessons from Fifth and Redwood Streets to the Conway home on Conway Street with violin in tow. Most of his performances were at church and Sunday school.

His musical career also included singing solo, accompanied by the portable organ his evangelical parents used to preach on other Indian reservations and downtown Escondido.  There was also the quartet that DeLisle, his brother Leo, Harold Randell, and Travis Bagwell formed to sing at church events and funerals.

DeLisle Calac’s recent recognition as the “2017 Escondido Rotarian of the Year Award” reflects his years of community and religious service, hard work, and his mother’s teachings. Of course, his accomplishments came with the support of his wife, Lois, also honored at the Rotarian’s annual fund-raising event, March 5, 2017.  Chartered, October 20, 1924, the Escondido Rotary Club is currently the third largest among 60 clubs in San Diego and Imperial counties. It has the largest membership of any service club in North San Diego County.

Calac notes with pride that he is one of the oldest members, “I enjoy seeing younger members join.  It’s also a great honor to join the distinguished list of individuals, who have been named, ‘Rotarian of the Year.’ The Escondido Rotary, all Rotary clubs, non-profits and service organizations, play an important role in bringing strangers together to share their desire to give back or to support the needs of the community. It’s also a place to make lifelong friends.

“Unfortunately, volunteers don’t always get the credit or the recognition they deserve for the extraordinary work they do.” As an example, he points to the rationing and homeland volunteer efforts that contributed to the World War II victory. “Who remembers? Who, today, knows that some 5,500 local ration boards composed of volunteer workers handled the daunting task of issuing ration books to the entire nation and exchanging used stamps for certificates?  Who knows that 14,000 American Indians volunteered for World War I, before we were even granted American citizenship?” he asks.

“From a very early age, I understood the obligation to do things for others without being paid. In fact, in Rotary, we pay for the honor to serve.  Caring for each other is something I get, because helping and depending on each other meant survival for my tribal ancestors. It also got Escondido through the Depression and war years. Plus, giving, without expectation of a return, is a pillar of the church my family attended.”

“DeLisle was instrumental in implementing the Rincon Band’s community Donations and Contributions Committee, where he served as chairman in its formative years,” SAYS Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band.

“The ability to financially support youth sports’ programs, community events, seniors’ food and health care, and the active and retired military – to make people’s lives a little better – feels really good.  As soon as the Rincon Band began making money, we set aside funds and created a program for sharing with our neighbors.

“It’s hard to explain. For years, living on the reservation, many people were often the recipients of the charity of our neighbors and it meant a great deal.  I remember how difficult holidays were and what a lift we got from the donated gifts of toys, food, and clothing.  To be able to return this loving spirit, under the leadership of DeLisle, is something about which we feel great pride.”

Calac’s relationship with the Rotary began early when he was in elementary school, playing in marble championships.  Calac and three team members set records for consecutively winning the Rotary Club’s marble shooting competition.

“In 1970, I joined Escondido Rotary.  In 1977, I moved to the Rincon Reservation and joined the Valley Center Rotary, serving as president in 1984-85.  I moved back to Escondido and Escondido Rotary in 1988,” Calac explains.

Never one to shy away from friendly competition or a good golf game, Calac, an avid golfer, once played on the Valley Center Rotary Club’s golf team, defeating his pals in the Escondido Rotary in the District Championships.

In addition to his inclusion in the Escondido High School Hall of Fame, he has served as a board member on the Escondido Boys and Girls Society, Deacon, and chair of the Elder Board of the Emanuel Faith Community Church.   He has been a king – King of the Grape Day Parade.  He and Lois are founding and charter members of the Escondido Charitable Foundation.

Serving the Rincon Band in a number of elected government positions, including tribal chairman, and council member, he was the tribe’s Gaming Commissioner at Harrah’s Casino where his job was, “to keep everything and everyone honest.”  As a member of the tribal government’s REDCO Committee, Calac was instrumental in investing in business development on the reservation.  Also as previous chairman and current member of the Rincon Donations and Contributions Committee, he continues to enjoy, “helping those working to make our communities more healthy and livable.”  He admits, “This has been one of my most enjoyable duties on behalf of the tribe.”

Calac owned an Escondido-based plastering company, before retiring in 1985.  Lois and DeLisle have been married for 53 years and have five children between them, plus12 grandkids, and 14 great-grandchildren.  They are notably proud of all their heirs and the accomplishments of their family.

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Editor’s Note: Recently DeLisle Calac was honored as ‘Escondido Rotarian of the Year.”

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