Longtime CSPA friend Don McCaleb passes

Longtime CSPA board member and hall of famer Don McCaleb died April 17 at his grandson’s home in Colorado Springs, near Pike’s Peak.

Don was instrumental in keeping the CSPA afloat in 1981 and 1982 after our founders Ralph and Millie passed away.

He met Ralph when he worked in the public relations department at Cal State Los Angeles and later became the director of public relations at Cal Poly SLO. When Ralph and Mille died within six months of one another in 1981, Don used his influence, savvy and affection for our program to make sure we had a classroom, a dorm and a cafeteria to hold our 1982 workshop.

CSPA Class of 1983
Don McCaleb was instrumental in keeping CSPA going after the passing of founders Ralph and Millie Alexander. In the class of 1983 photo, McCaleb s standing on the far right.

He continued to provide us with a vital connection at Cal Poly, one year at a time. He was also our steward as we navigated Cal Poly’s state government way of doing things and helped us develop the process by which we now run the best high school journalism workshop in the country.

It is not an understatement to say that we might not have been able to keep our workshop going after 1982 without Don’s kind care. It is also likely that the CSPA workshop would have been held somewhere other than Cal Poly SLO after 1982 had it not been for Don’s interest, enthusiasm and heart.

I have difficulty imagining that. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Along the way, we made Don a CSPA board member. He was a sage and well-respected voice at CSPA board meetings for decades who kept some of us focused on our mission. He was in our inaugural class of the CSPA Hall of Fame.

He also became a close, personal friend who had a fun loving if somewhat sarcastic sense of humor. He was pretty good at 8-ball, liked a clean joke, and always marveled at the energy our students brought with them to the CSPA workshop.

Don was 86 when he died of cancer, Barbara, his loving wife of more than 65 years, told me in her kind letter delivered to my mailbox today. As soon as I saw the return address, I knew that sad news would be in her letter.

Don was born Aug. 23, 1931 in Enid, OK. He graduated from Enid High School in 1950, when he joined the U.S. Air Force. He once worked with Billy Graham Films until he found his dream job at Cal Poly SLO, where he served with distinction from 1962 to 1991. He loved Cal Poly, Mustang sports teams and the university’s learn-by-doing approach to academics.

Barbara said that in addition to the CSPA, Don was also a volunteer with the Kiwanis Club and the San Luis Obispo Blues baseball club.

I had the privilege of chatting with Don by phone a few weeks before he passed away. His voice was strong and his mind was clear as he talked with fondness about the CSPA, and he emphasized that wanted me to pass along his hellos to “the Old Timers.”

He said some of his best memories and some of his best days were hanging out with us and attending board meetings and that he kept abreast of the CSPA through our website.

Barbara said in her letter that a celebration of Don’s life is being planned in Colorado Springs. She said in lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Don’s honor to the San Luis Obispo Church of the Nazarene, 3396 Johnson Ave., SLO, 93401, or online at https://www.givingministry.com/g3/.

From CSPA board member Art Aguilar: I can’t begin to express how sad I was to hear the news of Don’s passing. CSPA and many of the long-term friendships we have would not be here if it wasn’t for Don. Our yearly efforts that forged these relationships, built the zealous dedication and sense of purpose that has allowed us to carry on for all these years were possible only because Don championed and protected us at Cal Poly.

Oh how I loved listening to him and Ralph talk sports, joining in when I felt brave enough. We never ran out of conversation.

We’ve lost so many great people in the past few years. But, just like we have done for Ralph and Millie all these many years, we keep them alive through loving memories.
From board member Laura Nelson: I’m so sorry to hear this. The newest generation at CSPA never had the chance to meet him, but we know we wouldn’t be where we are today without him. I hope we can find a way to honor his memory this summer.

From board member Jay Berman: I’m sorry to hear of Don’s passing. You are right. He was incredibly important in keeping the workshop alive at a time when it could have gone under. He worked hard on our behalf as a liaison between the CSPA and the university, helping to keep the costs down. We could use a Don McCaleb in our corner now. He was also a very nice guy. I remember him fondly.

From board member Rich Hammond: I remember Don from our cookout at Cuesta Park when I was a student, and his dedication to CSPA is something that never will be forgotten. It should always be said that the workshop wouldn’t be at Cal Poly today without Don’s support. We’ve all benefitted from his kindness and friendship.

From board member Fred Schoemehl: Very sorry to read this news of Don’s death. A helluva friend to the program.

From board member Jessica Davis: I’m so sorry to hear that Don has passed. His commitment to the workshop is a charge to all of us to keep it going.

From CSPA board chairman Todd Harmonson: Don came to my rescue more times than I can remember during the second week of the workshop. He did it with grace and an eagerness to help and resisted reminding me that I should’ve known that (fill in the blank) needed to be taken care of before the last minute. This is sad news, and I am terribly sorry for Don’s family. But I know the CSPA is better (and, in all likelihood, alive) because of his involvement and care.

From CSPA board member Cam Inman: What a nice, helpful, generous man Don was to us all. I always appreciated our chats, his barbecue exploits and truly his bridge between CSPA and Cal Poly. I’d love to try and help more in any way as a CSPA & CP alumnus.

From board member Steve Harvey: Don’s role in saving the workshop cannot be overstated. I think that’s a good idea to dedicate this year’s board meeting to him. I will miss Don.

From longtime CSPA instructor Mike Daugherty: Condolences to the McCaleb and CSPA families. I remember meeting Don McCaleb in awe at the coaches barbecue as a student at the workshop. He was a tremendous supporter of the workshop. Rest In Peace.

— Larry Welborn
CSPA Chairman Emeritus

Published by Nicole Vargas

Assistant professor, Digital Journalism, San Diego City College; Adviser, City Times Media - City Times digital news, CTTV/Newscene, City Times Sound radio and podcast, Legend magazine and Indy Film