Salesman pitches his poems to the masses

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Johnny Callahan of Callahan's Sales and Service is an orator of poetry.

He shares poems of inspiration with people in nursing homes, retirement centers and at funerals. His love of poetry and memorizing them started in 1981 when he had his colon removed. He was in the hospital for 45 days, went through three operations and was given 19 pints of blood.

"I didn't think I was going to make it. Mrs. Joe (Della) Mott brought me a book of inspirational poetry by Helen Steiner Rice. In the fly leaf of the book, Della wrote that she hoped I would find something that was meaningful to me in the book," Callahan said.

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While he was recuperating, Callahan memorized one poem, then another and then another. One evening his neighbors, Gordon and Ruth Johnson came to his house to play cards. His wife Berniece wasn't ready to sit down and play.

"I decided to share a tape I recorded of myself reciting poems. Ruth called me a week later as her circle was supposed to entertain at St. Marks Nursing Home and she asked if she could play the tape for them," Callahan said.

At first, he hesitated, as he didn't think the tape was very good and he had only recited a few poems at church. After thinking it over, he contacted Johnson.

"I said it might be better if I recited them myself. I said if you've got the guts to let me do it, I'll try. From there it has gradually grown," Callahan said.

The majority of his recitation has been for friends and relatives. He has shared his poems with approximately 15 churches in the area and for funerals.

"I enjoy doing it very much. I never memorized anything in school. I guess we all have got a little niche in life and this is mine,"

Callahan said.

On this day, Callahan is sharing his love of poems with 20 attentive audience members at Primrose Retirement Center. The group claps after each poem. They all have smiles on their faces and a couple audience members have commented 'beautiful' after each one.

Callahan has a microphone, but he doesn't need one, as his voice is crystal clear and it carries well. One audience member says he has a voice like the late, great actor and clown, Red Skelton.

"I have never been told that before," Callahan laughs. "I have been called The Voice by some people that say once you've heard my voice, you can't forget it."

Callahan is sharing a talent from a bygone era. He likes Helen Steiner Rice's poems as they speak the truth of problems and troubles of life.

After 20 minutes of reciting poems by heart, an audience member asks Callahan how he can memorize so well.

"It's fun. I just have fun with it," he says.