Every year, The Willow School honors a member of our community at our Annual Green Gala. Our honorees have had a lasting impact on our students, parents, teachers, alumni, and beyond. This year, we are pleased to honor Eugene W. Kalkin – Willow grandfather, former Board Member, and faithful supporter. Eugene deeply values education and truly embodies the virtues of generosity, compassion, and service that we hold dear. Always eager to help others, Eugene is both an important part of Willow’s history and a role model for our community as we look toward the future. Read on to learn more about Eugene:
Eugene Kalkin has been involved in The Willow School since its early years. “My two older grandchildren, Wallace and Honor, were early students at The Willow School, back when Willow was meeting in a church basement,” Eugene shared. Wallace was a part of Willow’s second graduating class in 2010, and Honor graduated in 2013.
Since then, Wallace has graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School, and Honor went to Tufts University, which speaks well for Willow I think,” Eugene added. [Since our conversation, Honor was accepted to Columbia University’s graduate program and will be studying psychology in the fall.] “They had great raw material to work with, but Willow helped them grow into bright, decent young people.” Now, Eugene has two younger grandchildren at Willow, Maximus (Grade 3) and Oliver (Preschool), who enjoy their time at the school.
Eugene served as a member of Willow’s Board of Trustees from 2003 to 2011, inspired by the joy his grandchildren experienced at the school and by its commitment to sustainability. During his time on the board, Eugene was a very active member, appreciated for his good questions, great counsel, business acumen, generosity, and goodwill towards trustees, staff, and students. Eugene and his wife Joan Kalkin helped spearhead a Grandparent Library Challenge to raise funds for Willow’s library. Looking ahead, Eugene hopes to help continue to build Willow’s foundation to ensure a brighter future for us all.
“Our children are so important; they are the future of everything,” Eugene said. “If we don’t have well-educated children, they’re not going to be able to function in this complicated world that we have, and they’re not going to be happy. My youngest grandchildren are happy students at Willow and, as evidenced by Wallace and Honor, they’ve succeeded well beyond Willow. Willow helped establish that foundation.”
Eugene and Joan have been dedicated supporters of education for decades, serving as cherished and committed volunteer leaders and philanthropic supporters of the University of Vermont (UVM), Eugene’s alma mater. Eugene and Joan Kalkin both earned honorary doctorates from UVM in 1998. Eugene was the founding chairman of the Board of Directors of the University of Vermont Foundation, and Joan was an inaugural member of the Foundation Leadership Council. Each served as members of the UVM Board of Trustees. Eugene served on the advisory board for the School of Business Administration, the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Joan served on the board of advisors for Fleming Museum. In recognition of Eugene’s critical support of the new construction project, UVM’s business school is now housed in Kalkin Hall. Eugene and Joan’s philanthropic dedication was honored with the creation of the Eugene & Joan Kalkin Lifetime Distinguished Leadership Award. The Kalkin Award is granted selectively to those who have gone above and beyond to support the University over an extended period of time. Eugene also served as co-chaired of the fundraising committee for the new Bernardsville Public Library. He has also served as Director of the Merchandise Alliance Corp.
Eugene was a pioneer in the retail business, most notably as the innovative founder of the highly successful chain Linens ‘n Things. Inspired by the floor-to-ceiling displays in Parisian hypermarches, Eugene combined industry-changing merchandising techniques with his notorious knack for negotiations and love of quality products to develop a now-famous chain of stores. By the time Eugene sold the company in 1983, Linens ‘n Things had become one of the nation’s largest and most profitable specialty retailers of home textiles and decorative home accessories. In 1989, Eugene went on to found Kalkin & Co., an upscale decorative home furnishing store.
Although Eugene celebrated his 94th birthday this year, he still goes into the office every day. He enjoys spending time with his companion, Doris Lehman. A voracious reader, Eugene reads multiple newspapers cover-to-cover and has a passion for great nonfiction. Most of all, Eugene delights in being with his close-knit family, especially his children and their spouses – Adam Kalkin, Jocelyne Blanc, Nancy Kalkin, and Lincoln Miller – and his seven grandchildren, Wallace, Honor, Maximus, Oliver, Graham, Georgia, and Dorothea.