One man’s unexpected journey of helping and entertaining elementary students for more than a decade began by doing what parents do best: helping his own child solve a problem.

Bob Calderone began what would become a tutoring role later in life when his daughter Paula Bandos, a teacher at Columbus Signature Academy — Fodrea Elementary, mentioned that she was having difficulty getting some students to learn all that was required in a large-class setting.

With a love of children and experience teaching in the Army Air Corps and for a few semesters at Ivy Tech Community College, the Columbus man offered to come in and work with a few students — and received the principal’s approval.

That offer turned into a 13-year commitment that ended only recently when Calderone, 91, decided it was time for a younger volunteer to fill his shoes.

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Known as Mr. C to students, Calderone initially tutored students in reading and math at Fodrea, and for the past three years at Southside Elementary.

His mentoring to others spans generations.

Earlier in his volunteering, Calderone started working with SCORE, which originally stood for the Service Corps of Retired Executives. The organization helps entrepreneurs start small businesses and find success.

“I just decided instead of working with adults, I would rather work with kids. And I enjoyed it very much,” Calderone said.

And it seems the children enjoyed his visits nearly as much as he did.

Connecting with students

“The students would just light up when he arrived each Monday, hoping they would be the four picked to work with him on reading and math skills,” Bandos said.Many of the Fodrea students were from low-income, high-mobility families at the time Calderone volunteered, and were disinterested in school activities, said Nora Mitchell, former reading specialist and first-grade teacher at Fodrea, and a friend of the Calderone family.

With his knack for putting others at ease, Calderone took his lessons to a level that students could understand and relate to, Mitchell said.

“His ability to teach how math skills function in the real world gave these students a purpose for learning and a reason to stay in school,” she said.

When Bandos moved to Southside Elementary to teach, Calderone followed and continued his volunteer work there, spending two years as a Book Buddy and one year tutoring math.

For Calderone, the experience was about more than teaching students about numbers. He enjoyed seeing the “lightbulb come on” when teaching about fractions and the eager pride when they realized they had learned something new.

Of course, the games Calderone would introduce and play with them — to sneak in learning under the guise of fun — made it a great experience for both pupil and tutor, he said. Some of the games included black jack for counting and math chalkboard racing, Bandos said.

“They were learning subtraction and addition and didn’t even know it,” Calderone said.

Outside of the classroom, Calderone was active in other volunteering roles:

St. Bartholomew Catholic Church

Spreading laughter as Bampaw the Clown at Mill Race Center

“I thoroughly enjoy the reaction you get from people when you volunteer,” Calderone said. “As clowns, we have gone to some of the assisted-living places — and these are people who are pretty much confined to a building or area. And when you get a little sparkle in their eye, you know you have hit home. I think that’s what it’s about. With kids it’s a breakthrough, learning something and having fun with them.”

His first volunteer role, he said, was when he was 18 and walked into the Army Air Corps recruiting station during World War II, before the draft. He ended his working career as vice president in the aftermarket business at Arvin Industries in Columbus.

Calderone summed up what volunteering was all about in two words: Feeling good.

Senior Citizen of the Year

His community efforts did not go unnoticed, and in September he received the Joan Pearcy Senior Citizen of the Year Award from Mill Race Center, an honor that he was not expecting or seeking, but said he enjoys all the same.“To be honest, I’m conceited enough to say that I’m proud of it,” Calderone said.

The award is given to individuals to recognize their community service, encourage continued achievement and service from the senior community and to reinforce the community contributions that senior citizens provide. It was named after the late Joan Percy, a longtime Mill Race Center board member who was involved in programming at the center.

Calderone was well-deserving of the award, Mitchell said, not only because of his volunteer tutoring services at Fodrea and Southside, but for reaching out to the adult community as an adult, non-reader literacy tutor, being involved in SCORE, staying an active clown performer at both adult and children functions and all of his other activities.

Mitchell describes Calderone as a passionate, caring and giving individual with a welcoming personality.

“Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, ‘Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” I believe that quote sums up the life that Bob has lived thus far,” Mitchell said.

Although age has forced Calderone to retire, he encourages others to give volunteering a try if they have the time and inclination.

“It works. I wouldn’t trade it in for many things that I have done,” he said.

Bob Calderone

Age: 91

Born: 1925, Brooklyn, New York

Education: University of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Career: Automobile industry — Raybestos, McQuay Norris in St. Louis and retired from Arvin Industries in Columbus. Elsewhere — teacher at Ivy Tech Community College and Army Air Corps navigator instructor during World War II.

Family: Wife, Anne (died in 2009); two children, Bruce Calderone (died in 2014) and Paula Bandos; two grandchildren; three great-grandchildren.

Community involvement: Army Air Corps, Board of Senior Products at Mill Race Center, SCORE, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, tutoring – including Minds on Math and Book Buddies — and Mill Race Clowns.

Interests: Boating at Lake Monroe, traveling with family and friends and woodworking.

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.