Bowdoin is a campus of many tattoos, but perhaps the College’s most famous ink is Doug Calhoun’s honey bee, located on his left wrist. The tattoo, which Calhoun got at age 74, is an homage to his beehive and can be spotted as Calhoun swipes students into Thorne Dining Hall. When Calhoun started beekeeping in 1999, though, he was more concerned with his garden than with the bees themselves.
“I lived in Yarmouth, and I had a lot of gardens that weren’t doing very well, particularly squash and cucumbers. Someone said, ‘well, you need to get bees,’ so I took an adult education course on beekeeping [and] started beekeeping,” Calhoun said.
Though he’s come to love his bees, beekeeping hasn’t been all fun and games for Calhoun.
“It’s a challenge. We call it beekeeping, but to me it’s more like bee farming because we have all the same problems that a farmer does. We have a problem with too much rain [or] not enough rain. We have a problem with disease. We have a problem with pests. And we can’t keep [the bees] if they decide they want to leave.”
Calhoun has worked at the College since 2016. What initially began as a casual bartending gig for intermittent college events quickly turned into a deeper involvement once he began meeting students. In addition to his job at Thorne, Calhoun also helps out at track meets and works as a waiter for special events at the College. To Calhoun, though, his job is much more than checking cards at the dining hall.
“The students are wonderful. They’re friendly. They’re polite. You know, a lot of people think that students today aren’t [polite], but I haven’t met anyone that hasn’t been polite,” Calhoun said. “It has really made me feel young again.”
Calhoun, who grew up in Clinton, N.Y., has held jobs in a range of areas, but his main interest is in computers.
“I had a degree in secondary education, biology and physical education. And then along came Vietnam, and I went into the Air Force,” Calhoun said. “When I came to Maine, there was only one job opening in my field, and it was in a place called Lubec … I looked at it and I said, ‘No, thank you,’ and I went back into computers, and I’ve sort of been in computers the rest of my life … I was an operator, a programmer, a systems analyst and I got into Macintosh Apple. I [also] work[ed] with schools. I had my own business selling school administration software.”
With his programming and computing life now behind him, Calhoun takes immense joy in interacting with Bowdoin students. Attending athletic events, talking to basketball players and keeping up with those who are abroad are just a few of the ways Calhoun likes to stay involved with the campus community.
Known for his engaging conversations with students, Calhoun is also admired for his honeybee tattoo, which he reported was painless.
“Getting stung by a bee is more painful than [getting] the tattoo. In fact, the tattoo artist … said, ‘Oh, this will be like a bee sting’ and I said ‘go for it’ and it wasn’t even bad at all, it was easy, it was wonderful,” Calhoun said.
Besides his tattoo, Calhoun is also popular for his painted nails. Polished in coordination with seasons and major holidays, his nails sported snowflake designs this winter to celebrate the cold.
“I can’t remember how that started. I started having them decorated around Christmas one time, and the students like them. Someone said ‘do your grandchildren do that?’ And I said ‘I have 1500 grandchildren.’ I mean, that’s the way I feel about students, because I’m old enough to be your grandfather,” Calhoun said.
“Now it’s time for Valentines, St. Patrick’s Day, [or] Easter [designs]. Last year at graduation, it was fun. I did them black, white, black, white, but then I had 2019 [written across]. It’s just a way to connect with the students. I want to connect, I want you to feel that I’m not just swiping your card.”
At the end of the day, Calhoun hopes he can be a force for good on campus.
“Well, you know, let’s face it, we can’t always be happy all the time, right,” Calhoun said. “But maybe some days I can give a smile to somebody who isn’t happy.”