Eva Kalme, who works for residence life as a housekeeper, is retiring after 56 years at the college.
Born in Puerto Rico, Kalme came here with her sister when she was a young girl, and her first job was at a handbag factory in Manhattan. When she started working at Manhattan College in 1961, she was a part-time cook and housekeeper for 21 years. In 1982, she became a full-time employee.
Kalme reflects on her beginnings here with warmth. When she wasn’t working, she discovered lifelong hobbies.
“I love writing poetry and reading, and I love going to museums,” she said.
Not long after she came to America, she met her husband, Eglis Kalme, who supervised the painting staff at MC. He and Kalme shared similar interests, and eventually she found her own place at the college alongside him.
“He showed me a world I didn’t know about – he took me to the opera, the ballets, museums. He opened my world,” Kalme said.
Kalme worked in the factory up until they got married, and then moved into The Quigley House, a little white house which was a residence hall located where Kelly Commons now stands. Kalme is one of the only people at MC who has been here long enough to witness the ways that campus has transformed over the years.
“I lived at the little white house for 17 years. After that, we lived in West Hill. […] It was off campus, up near the Horace Mann School. I always enjoyed living here. Especially in West Hill, it was very peaceful, very beautiful. We had a beautiful private garden. My husband loved Manhattan College, and since he came from the war, he said he found peace here,” Kalme said.
Her husband, who passed away in 1983, was a talented artist. Some of his paintings are hanging in buildings around campus and Kalme noted that he would often fix portraits that students would vandalize. He was a refugee from Germany and came here with two degrees in electrical engineering and finance, which were not accepted here, but Kalme reminisces on his optimistic and funny spirit.
“He used to say, ‘immigrants here start from the bottom, but I started from the top.’ I said, ‘explain that to me’ and he said, ‘well, for the first time I came here, I had to have a sponsor because I couldn’t support myself. The first job I had was for a contractor. He sent me up to the roof of a building to paint, so I started from the top!’ And he was right,” she said.
When asked what her favorite thing about working here was, Kalme didn’t have to think twice: “The people. All my co-workers are fantastic. They are so good and very sweet and kind.”
One of these co-workers is Jose Garcia, her supervisor. Garcia explained that when he first got offered the position of supervisor, he was hesitant to accept it, but Kalme pushed him to take it. He also notes how dedicated Kalme was to her work.
“She would come everyday at five o’clock in the morning even though her shift started at seven o’clock. She is a good employee and a good person,” Garcia said.
Andrew Weingarten, director of residence life, saw Kalme as “a blessing” to the department.
“She has served tens of thousands of students over the years. Some quick math tells you that about 21,600 Jaspers have lived in Horan Hall alone since it opened… and Eva was there the whole time. We will really miss her,” Weingarten said.
Megan Heaney, education major and resident assistant in Horan Hall, expresses similar feelings about Kalme.
“Last year I lived on the second floor of Horan, which is also the floor where the housekeeping office is. Everyday I was greeted with a kind ‘Good Morning!’ from Eva, and it was always a great start to my day. This year, I ran into Eva on the elevator on my first day of student teaching. She said good morning, told me I looked beautiful, and said I would do great in the classroom, which actually helped calm my nerves for my first day,” Heaney said.
Heaney touches on a significant aspect of Kalme’s career; perhaps more impressive than Kalme’s long-term dedication to MC is her generosity and genuine interest in the students.
“Eva is not only an extremely hard-working individual who has helped keep Horan Hall clean for many years, but also a truly kind person who has brought smiles to so many students faces. Eva will be greatly missed by Horan Hall,” she said.
At the end of the semester, residence life will see Kalme off with a retirement party filled with adoring colleagues, friends, and students.
As for her retirement plans, Kalme is excited to have more free time.
“I think I will continue going to museums and to the parks. I love to explore old historical houses, and I will have the time to go do that now. And of course I will continue to write poetry,” she said.
When she describes what she will miss about working here, her poetic nature shines through: “Besides my coworkers, I liked the work I did, and in Horan Hall, there’s beautiful scenery. If you stand in the window in the morning and look out at Van Cortlandt Park, there’s not a better view. That’s what I will miss. Every morning I would go and look at the sun shining. It was a beautiful view. I told myself many times, ‘this is what you’re going to miss.’”