The New Calliope: Over 35 Years of Publishing Excellence
Behind every organization there is a chain of communication. From discussions among board members to reaching out to the membership. Those who are involved in the day-to-day running of an organization know the importance of keeping in touch with their members.
The New Calliope has been that major tool of COAI for the past 35 years. The years during COA, The Calliope was the publication members looked to for information, entertainment and education. With the formation of COAI, it was continued as The New Calliope.
There have been five editors who made The New Calliope the magazine it is today. Ruth Erkkila was the first one to make sure it got off on the right foot with her first issue as editor in 1984. Cal Olson stepped in in 1988 and for 17 years took care of The New Calliope making sure it was true to the membership. When he retired in 2005 Pat Newton took on the role as editor while Tom Newton took care of the advertising and new computerized production aspects of today’s printing requirements.
Ruth Erkkila can only be described as someone full of energy and tough to catch up to! Her enthusiasm and energy is something that is not only inspirational but infectious as well.
The following are excerpts from an article published in March/April 1988 about Ruth and written by Mary Ithia. It was the last issue Ruth was editor of The New Calliope.
“Can you have the proofs ready by Friday?” she asked. “I’m leaving for Peru.”
I knew then this was no ordinary person I was dealing with. Ordinary people enjoy cruises in the Caribbean. They do not float down the Amazon and sleep under mosquito netting in the jungle.
And I was right: Ruth Erkkila is not ordinary. You may know this silver-haired lady with the wide smile as the editor of The New Calliope or as “Rootie-Toot,” the blue chapeaued clown. Let me introduce you to Ruth, the scholar, the traveler, the explorer and the adventurer.
When I first started doing the typesetting for The New Calliope, I assumed the very competent editor was a professional writer. Her articles were superb, and it was evident that her editing skills were top-notch.
Actually she’s a chemist for 3M and has no journalistic background. When she took on the editorship of the official publication of Clowns of America in 1983, she, Donella Hoffman, and Betty Cash did all the typing, proofing, editing, and keylining in Ruth’s apartment.
“We started out with a 5,000 name membership list (which wasn’t current) $1,000 in the bank, and a large debt,” said Ruth. In 1984 they joined COAI and started working on The New Calliope.
Ruth was introduced to the world of clowning in the spring of 1970. At the time she was putting on a puppet show once a week in the pediatrics ward at St. John’s Hospital in St. Paul Minnesota.
“One day one of the other puppeteers, Kay Fransmeier started talking about the Powder Puff Clown Club. She gave me Betty’s phone number and I called her,” said Ruth. She joined Powder Puffs and Clowns of America that same year, and Rootie-Toot was born.
But clowning is far from being Ruth’s only diversion. Her home is full of books. One entire wall, floor to ceiling, is lined with books on history, ancient civilizations, Japanese culture, and as well as cookbooks, classics and novels.
Sometimes she travels to the places she has read about. The fat volumes on the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas led her to Mexico and South America. The trip down the Amazon River in Peru was a tourist trip, but it was sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and most of her fellow travelers were scientists and professors.
“We went out in the desert and watched Haley’s comet.” Ruth related. “I can’t believe it – I was on vacation and I got up at three o’clock in the morning two days in a row!”
Cooking is another of Ruth’s passions. She is presently taking a Thai cooking class.
“They use a lot of coconut milk, ginger, garlic, hot peppers and fish sauce, which is salty,” Ruth explained. “Combined in one dish will be salty, sweet, hot and sour tastes.” It sounds very confusing to the taste buds!
Not one to sit still for long. Ruth cross country skis and bikes. She once pedaled for over 35 miles and had to sleep on the floor with her feet up to ease the back strain the effort had caused. She used to downhill ski, but gave it up when she lost both big toenails due to ill-fitting boots.
I consider myself fortunate to have met this warm, friendly, interesting, and funny person who just happens to be a fuzzy-haired clown named Rootie-Toot.
In chatting with Ruth recently she fondly remembers working on The New Calliope. She said her biggest challenge was a financial one. The budget was extremely small so covers were originally in black and white and the publication was kept small.
“We wanted to make sure a detailed treasurer’s report was in every issue,” said Ruth. This was due to the previous financial woes the organization had experienced. She felt is was important the membership have access to this information.
She is also very grateful to Betty Cash who was a huge help during those years. Betty wrote articles and was actively involved in the proofing and editing. She handled two magazines when Ruth was traveling.
“I’m proud that it survived,” said Ruth when talking about the switch from Calliope to New Calliope. Having been editor of the original publication and coming over to the new one meant a great deal to her so she could make sure it did continue.
Her favorite part? She loved the process of collecting information and formulating ideas for articles.
Today she finds herself busy caring for her 91-year-old dad, spending a lot of time in her garden and being involved in volunteering. She, also, still finds time to travel.
When we first started working on gathering material for our 25th Anniversary, I contacted Ann Sanders to write an article about Cal Olson, the man behind The New Calliope for 17 years. Ann was delighted to call “her friend” and interview him about his years in the editor’s seat. Sadly Cal recently passed away prior to us publishing this story. It is with great pride and honor we tell you about Cal…by Ann Sanders
Naval aviator. Photographer. Prize winning reporter. Clown. Editor. President of the National Press Photographers Association.
Who lays claim to all those titles?
It’s none other than the second editor of The New Calliope, Cal “Calico” Olson. Cal grew up in a small northwestern Minnesota town and served as a naval aviator during World War II. After graduating from University of Minnesota in 1948, he went into the newspaper business.
Cal worked at The Forum, in Fargo, North Dakota, for 25 years (1950 – 1976), winding up as Managing Editor.
He was named chief photographer in 1957, special projects editor in 1967, City Editor in 1968 and then Managing Editor in the early 1970s.
During a one-year leave of absence from The Forum, he was Editor in Residence at Moorhead (Minnesota) State University.
Cal eventually left The Forum in 1976 to become the Executive Producer and anchor for a weekly news magazine, Spin, on television station KFME-TV, Fargo.
“In 1957 I was part of the news team at The Forum that won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting,” said Cal. In 1968, while still at The Forum, he won the prestigious George Polk Memorial Award also for local reporting.
Was in the Service Corps of Retired Executives from 1993 to 1995 and was twice elected President of the National Press Photographers Association.
Following Ruth “Rootie-Toot” Erkkila as Editor, Cal brought a wealth of publication knowledge to the bi-monthly magazine. He served as The New Calliope Editor from 1988 – 2005.
What prompted Cal to become editor of The New Calliope? As Cal tells it, “I backed into it. In 1988, I’d been a Shrine Clown for about five years. At that time the editor of Clown Alley, the Shrine Clown publication, had retired and I applied for the job. But, the new Clown Alley editor already had been named, and so I kissed that off. However, that editor knew COAI was looking for a new editor since Ruth Erkilla was resigning. He got in touch with then COAI President, Hunter Stevens. Hunter, in turn, called me and asked me to apply. I’d never so much as heard of either COAI or The New Calliope. I got hold of a couple copies of the magazine, sent my application to Hunter and away I went. At the same time I sent in my application for Calliope Editor, I applied for membership in COAI.”
In his early years as The New Calliope editor, stories were either snail-mailed or e-mailed to Cal. He used a computer to create the “proofs,” which he then physically “pasted up” and delivered to the printer. Photos were hard copy prints. By his last years as editor, he was receiving all editorial and advertising copy electronically, assembling the material and transmitting it electronically to the printer in Ohio.
According to Cal, “In the early years it was pretty physical….all paste-ups and mechanical…no digital. But by the last eight years or so it was pretty much digital and we’d send the whole issue via computer to our printer in Ohio.”
Selecting material for The New Calliope was tough at the beginning, since he did not know clowns who had both the clown skills and the ability to communicate those skills. “I spent a lot of time at clown conventions and seminars, listening to and covering the speakers and convincing those speakers they had something to tell all COAI members. I tried to encourage writing skills among the few who needed it, and tried to provide sympathetic and supportive editing. Eventually, there developed a wonderful and widespread cadre of clown writers capable of taking on an unbelievable spectrum of subjects. And mind you, they didn’t get a cent for their stories; they worked because they wanted COAI members to become the best they could be. Now, THAT’s dedication!”
“I tried to make sure each issue of The New Calliope contained material that (a) informed, (b) entertained and (c) influenced. It should contain all the activities current in COAI (elections, appointments, conventions, etc.) and at least four pieces of ‘how to’ material (make-up, costuming, props, skits, professional attitude, etc.). Add to this news of the clown world, profiles of interesting clowns and whatever else I thought might be of interest to an information-hungry bunch of readers. I must say, I have worked for a number of different audiences, but never enjoyed any as much as I did the clowns — MY clowns.”
Even after all the years as editor, Cal didn’t see meeting the needs of the COAI membership as a challenge.
“I had two great aids: first, the COAI membership, which was not bashful about letting me know their likes and dislikes; second, the COAI Board of Directors, who had a lively interest in the progress of Calliope, and who, thankfully, were not remiss about sharing it,” shared Cal.
How did he keep coming up with ideas for features? “Change in direction of content came largely as a result of discussions with writers, discussions also with clowns who had a ‘new’ or hitherto unpublished skill. How to come up with new ideas? LOTS of serious thinking, much talking among serious clowns.”
“I always loved going to COAI’s annual convention. Talk about getting pumped up about clowning (and editing). And the friendships. And the solid sense of belonging. Wow! And in the performance pit, what a joy to interact with kids. I swear, clowning is the only way an old fart gets to play with kids any more. If you haven’t had a 2-year-old hug your ankles, you haven’t lived!”
When asked what was his favorite part of being editor Cal gives the same response as to what was his greatest challenge as editor, “Getting the next edition into the mail!”
“I was always proud that the COAI Board appointed me to the job eight times, and that I left by my own decision, since my mainspring was winding down.”
Cal received his first clown training at a Shrine convention in Las Vegas. “Frankly, I became a clown to counteract some of the job pressure I was experiencing as a newspaper editor.”
He selected the name of Calico as a way to get ‘CAL’ into his clown name.
Cal admits that parades are by far his favorite clown venues. “For my last 15 years as a clown, I worked with an agent in Northern Minnesota. He booked me into civic celebrations, county fairs, youth events, crazy days, you name it. And most of them involved a parade. Accordingly, I had a good supply of parade props. In addition, at these events, I’d wind up as busker, with finger magic, meet and greet and like that.”
“My philosophy is pretty basic: Keep it light, keep it moving, stay ahead of your audience, and NEVER let ’em see you sweat. If you can do that, the art form will take care of itself.”
Since he became a clown in the 1980’s, Cal says clowning has evolved slowly, very slowly. “It’s taken 75 years for the circus clown, while still important, to be relegated to a minor role in the world of clowning. The professional clown, of course, continues to prosper, but not so much on the sawdust. Costuming and make-up are evolving. So is the gimmick, the shtick, the gag and the blow-off. This should be no surprise; humor MUST be current and topical (just read Shakespeare).”
The area that he thinks that has improved the most is “the remarkable increase in professionalism, especially among First of Mays. Even (or particularly) on the chapter level, clowns now start with the accepted basics of clowning, all the while working toward the goal of the complete clown. They now receive direction, rather than just striking out and hoping for the best.”
Cal married Joanne Salomonson in 1950. They have two children, Cathy, an associate professor of English/Journalism at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN, and a son, Charles, who is a computer designer programmer in Washington, DC, and two grandchildren.
In his 17 years as editor, Cal never missed a magazine deadline. “I’m proud that I hit ‘em all.”
For those of us that spent many hours pacing while waiting for the postal worker to deliver the next edition, we thank Cal for his dedication, professionalism, and the many, many copies of The New Calliope for which he was editor.
Tom and Pat Newton (Newton Studios, Inc.)
Pat started in her clowning career before meeting Tom. Taking some classes offered through an adult educational program she donned the make-up, red nose and fell in love with big shoes. She had always loved shoes – now she could have even bigger ones!
Meanwhile Tom would take any opportunity to be a ‘mime.’ Though he never trained, he just loved the concept of performing without the use of verbal communication.
Pat went to art college and pursued a career in graphic arts putting in 9 years as the Promotional Art Director at TV Guide, Inc. and as the PR assistant at Black and Decker. Meanwhile Tom went to college and received a degree in business and worked at a small printing company. They met in 1986 and married one year later.
Soon their complimentary careers took off when Tom left the printing company and they launched their own business.
Newton Studios, Inc. quickly became a successful organization specializing in print management.
When their children were 6 and 7 years old, Pat saw an ad for clown classes for children. What fun she thought as she registered them. Both of them took to clowning with a vengeance going on to win top awards at SECA in performance. Jimmy “Racket” Newton showed a great skill in ballooning while Katie “Candy” Newton challenged her mother’s skills in face painting. Pat and the two children soon became popular entertainers in their hometown.
They joined a local alley and became members of COAI. It was while Pat was flipping through the pages of The New Calliope she saw that Cal Olson was going to retire as editor.
“I was so excited to think I could take something I love to do and combine it with my profession,” she explains. She and Tom were both thrilled to be selected to take over the helm from Cal.
“Cal did such a tremendous job of caring for The New Calliope. I think the board realized how lucky they had been to have someone like that in that particular position,” reflected Pat.
Cal opened his home to Pat where they met to review the editorial responsibilities. Pat found the meeting incredibly enlightening and inspiring.
“Though my background was also publishing, it was very different from Cal’s. I was more from the graphics side with editing and writing picked up along the way. Cal was so strong from an editorial stand point. He gave me such great insight about approaching it from that point of view. I appreciated his candor and how giving he was,” said Pat.
Of course, Tom’s technical experience was an added bonus moving The New Calliope completely into the digital age. His knowledge of printing presses and their capabilities help make it possible to produce the publication with more color.
“We are lucky to be in a global world where we can literally print anywhere in the country. Files are transmitted digitally so there is no need for physical layout and paste-up. Everything is created on the computer and then sent via an FTP site. We don’t even go to film any more. It’s strictly straight to plate,” Tom explains.
Both the Newtons saw the dawning of the digital age in 1988 when they were first married. They attended a computer conference in Atanta. They immediately purchased a Mac II with 5 megs of RAM and a 40 meg hard drive. They laugh about having the “biggest and the best” of the time. But it was that insight and perseverance that has brought them to where they are today.
They are both proud of their involvement with The New Calliope and love putting it together.
“I just love receiving all the email and notes from everyone,” said Pat. “The biggest problem is I can’t seem to fit everything in I would like to. As I work on each issue my brain is already thinking about the next three issues. It sure can get a little crowded in there!”
The Newtons are also quick to point out their company is a team of players. They have a staff of three in their office who all have input on some level with The New Calliope.
They both agree it’s a collaborative effort from their staff, to the board of directors, and to the membership who inspire them.
Sammy Smith (SPS Publications)
Current New Calliope Editor
PO Box 122 Eustis, Florida’ 32727
In October 2013, the Business Office for Clowns of America International, as well as the production of COAI’s The New Calliope magazine, shifted to the team at SPS Publications, Inc. in Eustis, Florida.
Sammy Smith, president of the company, is well known to family and children’s entertainers through his books (including Big Laughs for Little People and Kiddie Patter and Little Feats), his work with The Funny Paper and The Linking Ring magazines, and from years of lecturing for clown and magic groups. His online mail order company, SPS Magic (www.spsmagic.com), has produced over fifty books, props, and videos for kid-show and family entertainers, and publishes an e-mail newsletter called The Samm-E-gram. Sammy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Central Florida and has supervised the publication of over 20,000 pages of books and periodicals. Laurel Smith, also of SPS Publications, Inc., is now our Business Office Manager, handling member services and assisting with advertising for The New Calliope. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Office Administration from Trevecca Nazarene College and has over twenty years of experience in office management and customer service.