John Harold Calvin

Grandfather, insurance salesman, woodworker, philanthropist

John Harold Calvin was born April 21, 1932, to Homer Calvin and Lucille (Robertson) Calvin, in Concordia, Kansas, and died on July 19, 2023, in Portland, Oregon surrounded by loving family.

He and his older sister, Louise, were raised in Osborne, Kansas, where their parents owned a John Deere farm implements store. John grew up hanging out in the shop and learning to fix things. As a teenager, he spent summers working on a nearby farm as a hired hand (his adventures there setting in motion a lifetime of near-death experiences with saws, knives, and cars, among other things).

He graduated from Osborne High School and then from the University of Kansas. He forever carried his Kansas roots and small-town beginnings close to heart.

He met Dorothy Murray in Osborne and they married just before he began his service in the US Air Force. He was honorably discharged upon the sudden death of his father. After helping his mother sell the family business, he and Dorothy settled in Southern California, where they raised their three spirited daughters, Elizabeth (b.1960), Melissa (b.1963), and Sarah (b.1969). They divorced in 1972.

Starting out in a Sears department store’s appliance sales department, he discovered he was a natural, as long as he truly believed in the product he was selling. He built that knack into great success as an insurance broker. “In a roundabout way, his insurance career led him to meet the woman who would become his wife of 46 wonderful years,” his family shared.

He and Mary Dunlap met at a conference in San Francisco in October 1976. They married in December 1977 and set up household in Claremont with Mary’s two daughters, Karen and Annette.

When he retired in 1991, the couple moved north and landed in their all-time favorite home, a beautiful haven on the North Umpqua River near Roseburg, Oregon, which became a favorite gathering place for their children and grandchildren. After 15 years, and mindful of life’s practicalities, they left their North Umpqua home with not a little sadness, yet characteristic can-do-ness, and in 2006 took up residence in Portland.

In retirement, he honed his woodworking craft and created many heirloom pieces for family and friends (and learned to love listening to opera while he was at it). “He had a keen aesthetic sensibility, and his work ranged from gorgeous tables and headboards to cat hide-away staircases, and cradles, chessboards, and tzedakah boxes for grandchildren,” his family said. “He recognized beauty in what others might consider a defect in wood, and often turned that characteristic into an exquisite feature of a piece.”

He had a lifelong commitment to giving back. As a boy during the Great Depression, he witnessed his parents prioritize helping others, ensuring employees were paid when there wasn’t enough to pay themselves, and, never turning a farmer away for lack of money. “John absorbed and lived this same ethos and instilled in his children an abiding responsibility to help others,” his family continued. “He donated substantial time and resources to many charitable entities, including the Red Cross, Friendly House, hospital boards, civic fundraising committees, and a local soup kitchen. He never wanted credit, preferring quiet philanthropy. Much to his chagrin, he was publicly honored as a First Citizen of Roseburg in 1999, in recognition of his outstanding fundraising for area nonprofits and for a new library building.

“John was a strategic thinker and creative problem solver in all aspects of his life, whether it be a sales strategy, a woodworking challenge, or fundraising campaign. He was perhaps never more content than when grappling with a problem to solve.

“John did not feel above anybody. A person living on the street drew his empathy, not judgment, and on his walks in downtown Portland he would often engage in conversation with strangers who were down on their luck, simply in recognition of another person’s humanity. For a time, he had a regular lunch date with a man who was houseless.

Throughout his life, he formed and maintained lasting friendships.

“If you needed a big favor, he was the friend to call,” his family said. “If you wanted to share stories and laughs, he would bring the Scotch (he had a wicked sense of humor and a great laugh). He was always on your side, and he was your biggest booster. He was very proud of the strength and accomplishments of his mother and sister. He was proud of his daughters, knew they could do anything they set their minds to, and encouraged them to go for it and to be independent. He adored his wife Mary and was her unwavering champion.

“John at heart was a seeker of truth and meaning. He actively sought a spiritual path, and the one he followed was deeply personal, while at the same time he honored all paths.”

He leaves behind his beloved wife, Mary; daughters Elizabeth Calvin (Ingrid Lobet), Melissa Browning (Peter), and Sarah Calvin (Cynthia Becker); stepdaughters Karen Demsey (Jim O’Connor) and Annette Demsey (Erik Richmond); and grandchildren Joshua and Noah Browning, Gabriel Lobet, Brennan and Anna O’Connor, and Grace and Owen Richmond.

“We miss him so much and will always love him,” his family added.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday, August 15 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland.

Donations in his memory may be directed to Blanchet House at; Friendly House at, or the charity of your choice.


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