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For Jan Callen, it’s been a life of service

By Staff | Jun 12, 2009

Jan Callen Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

Frank and Katherine Cudzilo were Polish/Russian immigrants who met and married after they came to the United States in the early 1900s. The young couple settled in West Virginia, changed the family name to Callen, Frank went to work in the coal mines and they had five children, one of whom was Basil. High school was considered a luxury to some those days and because of economic necessity Frank was forced to chose only one of his sons to attend. Young Basil loved learning and desperately wanted to go to high school but he wasn’t chosen, his older brother Steven was. Basil decided then and there that no child of his would be ever be denied an education.

The boy grew up and, like his father, worked in the coalmines. He married a young lady named Beulah and they moved to Morgantown. Basil was even more determined now that their children, no matter how many, would not only go to high school, they’d go to college. Over the next twenty years the Callen’s had eight children. The first was a son they named Jan.

While Basil worked in the mines and Beulah tended the home fires, they began buying up housing around Morgantown, and with, what Jan calls, “a readymade workforce,” began fixing it up and renting it to WVU students.

On-the-job training provided the young Callens with serious carpentry and plumbing skills as they went about renovated properties and paving the way to their future.

Jan was in his freshman year at WVU when fate stepped in.

He was majoring in education on an ROTC scholarship and planning to fulfill that obligation in the Air Force. “I ran into a some buddies on my way to register for class and someone said “Lets go to Jean’s and get a beer.” He was eighteen and legal and thought a mid-day beer with friends sounded great but had one stop to make first. This was the last day to hand in his ROTC tickets designating Air Force. “I was in a real hurry to get to the bar and there were two ROTC tables at the end of the hall. One was mobbed and the other had no line at all. ” Jan jumped on the no line and handed in his tickets. “When they finished with me I was in the Army and being measured for a uniform.” He said. “The other table was Air Force.”

So Jan’s in the Army now and it’s his sophomore year. Sitting in a car at a light with some upper classmen, talking about an upcoming and very important ROTC do, fate came along again. “I remember it very well.” He said. “We were idling at Woodburn Circle and crossing the street was Susie Phillips.” Apparently Jan and Susie were in the same class at Morgantown High School. “Did you date her in high school?” I asked “No” he smiled, “I adored her from afar.” Susie Phillips was, and still is, a real sweetheart and drop-dead gorgeous. Jan recalled “Susie was voted ‘most popular girl’ in the senior class; everybody knew who she was and liked her. I remember asking her to sign our class yearbook and she wrote “Hope we can always be friends.” He really laughed at this. “That what you write when you have no idea who this guy is.” Well there Susie was at UWVcrossing the street right in front of a car full of “rotsies” when the ranking senior in the backseat said to the plebe in front, “Ask HER to the party.” It wasn’t a suggestion it was a direct order. Jan mustered his courage and followed orders fully expecting the most popular girl in the class to say “no.” But she didn’t.

Jan and Susie were married in March of 1970, during their senior year. The honeymoon was a weekend in New York. “The Pittsburg Penguins were on the flight. They all had brief cases, no front teeth and were smoking cigars and playing poker. It’s funny what you remember. I was wearing a boutonnire and Susie had a corsage pinned to her dress. We were kids.”

Three months later they graduated, he cum laude with a BS in secondary education, she with a BA in history. Following graduation, Jan went to Fort Knox for training and by Thanksgiving they were living in Badhershfeld, Germany, where 2nd Lieutenant Callen was assigned an armored tank platoon serving watch on “Freedom’s Frontier,” patrolling the Iron Curtain.

Susie Callen was back at base thrust into the role of “first lady of the platoon.” Jan explained “Military spouses serve the same as the one wearing the uniform.” This meant that, at the tender age of twenty-one, Susie was responsible and available to all the other wives for problem-solving of every nature. Many of these women were mothers of young children and needed help, a break, something to look forward to. Susie started “Mothers’ Day Out,” a program that offered one day a week of free-daycare to these young families. It was 1971 and this award-winning program was on the cutting edge of family support groups.

In 1974 Jan was reassigned to flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama. In 1975, Jason Callen was born. The family moved to Fort Hood, Texas and Jan to attack helicopters. From Texas he was sent to Korea, back to Germany, to the Pentagon and finally the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. All the while moving up in the ranks. “When you move from school to school like Jason did, you learn how to fit in and make friends fast.” Jason Callen today is an attorney living in Nashville with his wife Willer and their daughters: Virginia 5, Lucy, 3 and Mary “Mac” Armstrong, 1.

Upon retirement in 2000, Colonel Jan Callen had served his country for thirty years as an attack helicopter pilot, commanding platoons, companies, battalions and brigades in Europe and Asia; as Chief of Army Aviation at the Pentagon, Chief of Staff of the Army’s Aviation Training Center at Fort Rucker, and Chairman of the Department of Leadership and Management at the Army War College in Carlisle. And in his spare time he earned a Masters Degree in Logistics Management from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Of his Army career, he unabashedly admits “I miss it every day.”

Jan was a first hand witness to the US focus shift from Viet Nam to the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, saying “The Army culture changed and went through a tremendous period of soul searching.” He served under corps commander Colin Powell, of whom he thinks the world; and says “The best thing that every happened was when women became fully integrated into the armed forces. The level of competence went up and the level of indiscipline went down.”

In 1995, the Callen’s, in anticipation of a Jan’s retirement for the military, bought a thirteen acre farm in the rolling country on the Shepherdstown side of Martinsburg. It’s not a working farm; it’s a great house and a horse barn with paddock surrounded by spectacular gardens. Gardening is Susie’s passion and it shows.

When The Callens moved to Martinsburg in 2000 Jan had no employment plans at all. So, with new found free time, he set about building things on the propertylots of things. Until Susie said “At this rate you’re building a village.” Jan took this to mean – “Go find something to do.” Good ideabut it had to be something of real value. They were new members of the Trinity Episcopal Church and at a church coffee Jan met Pete Mulford, CEO of City HospitalAND former helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. It was Pete who told Jan that United Way was looking for an executive director. The idea appealed to him because “I believe the military organizes people to accomplish things and I was a soldier. All the training skills I learned and practiced in the military helped others do their jobs, well. “

Jan became executive director of the Berkeley and Morgan County UW and in 2005, the organization merged with Jefferson County to form the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, WV Inc. As executive director of the new organization Jan lead the effort posturing two United Ways in building trust and confidence of the members of both Boards, the partner agencies, stake holders and the community in accepting the merger. He implemented two community change strategies, access to dental care and community-wide utility assistance, which have received state recognition. He’s reshaped the organization and streamlined processes. He established a regional HHS collaborative to focus on housing, health care, children, youth and emergency preparedness. He advocates for public policy changes and implements community solutions.

Under his leadership both local and donor control of the organization has been strengthened. “We work for the donor,” Jan said. “Every dollar we receive goes where the donor wants it to.” For example: Jan lead the community effort to hold the first WV Mission of Mercy Community dental clinic in which more than seventy five dental professionals and hundreds of volunteers provided free services to 1,153 patients. That weekend more than $500,000 worth of dental care was given to the under and uninsured citizens of the Panhandle. Mickki Van Wyk of Martinsburg, a “very generous benefactor” heard about the MOM clinic last year and became “passionate” about the cause so she designated her 2009 contribution to continue the effort. “That is how Mickki requested her donation be spent and that’s what we’re doing.” The 2009 MOM clinic will be held on June 26th at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County.

Jan will be the first to tell you UW of the Eastern Panhandle is a village. Even with a cracker-jack staff of five – doing the work of fifty – and dedicated volunteers, these days are challenging. There are ever-growing needs in the community and in this economy, Jan admits “We have our work cut out for us.” He gives much credit to the active, committed and supportive UWEP Board. “We couldn’t meet our challenges without them.” For more information on the enormous about of work United Way of the Eastern Panhandle is doing in our community visit www.uwayep.org

Though everyone who knows him says Jan works 24/7 he has still made time for community activities. He’s a member of the West Virginia Utility Assistance Advisory Council, the Second Congressional District Service Academy Review Board, the Community Judicial Board for Alternative Sentencing, the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce Board, the Shawnee Council of the Girl Scouts Board and Health Smiles of the Eastern Panhandle Board. He’s also past president of the Martinsburg Rotary and Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.

Jan and Susie make time to go horseback riding, flat water kayaking, sail and snow ski and visit Nashville as often as possibletogether. Looking forward to the summer he told me that Jason, Willer and the girls are coming out in August for a couple of weeks and he and Susie will take their granddaughters out on the horses, and he and Jason will go fishing. Like a kid looking forward to Christmas. For all of his hard-charging, over-achieving work ethic, this man has a soft-spoken charm and easy laugh that really blurs that attack helicopter pilot thing. Whether serving our country or our community, Jan Callen has spent his life focusing his strength, care and commitment where it counts most.

A wise man once told him “A child with no ambition is the biggest poverty.” That being true the family of Basil Callen was wealthy beyond dreams. A West Virginia coal miner who made a promise to his children that they would never be denied an education, and with their mother, Beulah, by his side, kept his promise. Where are the Callen kids today? Gary is retired Vice President of Citigroup; Eldon is an attorney; Pamela is a teacher; Clarissa is a CPA; Chris, an attorney, Beth, a teacher; Karen, a college professor and their big brother, Jan, US Army Colonel retired, is the Executive Director of the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. Incredible.

– Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy-Award winning screenplay writer.