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Obituary: Merilyn “Tilli” Holm Calhoun

An obituary and a collection of pictures provided by Tilli's family.

Merilyn “Tilli” Holm Calhoun

Merilyn “Tilli” Holm Calhoun unexpectedly lost her three-year battle with melanoma on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, 2012. She spent the day at home surrounded by family and thoroughly enjoyed a piece of chocolate Kahlua pie from the .

Tilli was a descendent of two pioneer families, the Teeters and the Holms, that settled in Livermore in the late 1800s. She was born along with her twin brother Frank on April 1, 1929 to Dick and Ione Holm. One of her favorite stories to share was of her father, who was known as a prankster, trying to convince his friends on April Fool’s Day that he was the new father of twins.

She grew up picking almonds, pulling mustard weeds, and hunting for chicken eggs on her family’s farm, Fairview, which was located on Stanley Boulevard. Today Murdell Lane runs through the middle of what was the eastern hay field with Isabel Avenue bordering the western edge of the farm.

As a child Tilli was known as her grandma Ida Holm’s shadow. She attended Fifth Street School and . She loved to read and would often be found with her nose in a book. She was the valedictorian of Livermore High School’s class of 1947 and after high school majored in art at San Jose State University. Later she continued her art education at Cal State Hayward and U.C. Berkeley and became qualified to teach art courses.

Introduced to Wayne Calhoun by Wayne’s cousin Noel Watson, Tilli and Wayne married on July 16, 1950 with their reception at the Fairview farm. Their three daughters, Susan, Merry, and Nancy were born later in three year intervals.

Studying under some well-known artists, such as Jade Fon, she became a popular artist in Livermore and won awards for her paintings in local art shows. She was an outstanding watercolorist, but became infatuated with Grandma Moses style folk art and for several years could be found at local art events painting scenes depicting Livermore history. She taught popular drawing classes through Livermore Adult Education Program.

Known as Mrs. Calhoun to her students, Tilli was employed by the as a resource librarian at for many years and worked for the gifted student program at Arroyo Mocho. She worked hard to encourage kids to read and to broaden their horizons by learning about other cultures from around the world. As additional encouragement she would bring in well-known children’s book authors, such as Patricia Polacco to speak to the children.

Tilli was very involved in the promotion of cultural arts in Livermore. She represented the Livermore Art Association on the Livermore Cultural Arts Council for more than 30 years and was active in the Livermore Art Festival and helped with the Summerfest. She was also one of the founders of the Livermore Art Association Gallery and the Heritage Guild’s History Center in the Carnegie Building in downtown Livermore.

A history nut, Tilli wrote and illustrated two books entitled, “Rodeo” and “Early Days in the Livermore-Amador Valley” that were used in the Livermore School District. Tilli established the History Mobile, a travelling museum sponsored by the Heritage Guild that visited Livermore schools to teach Livermore's agricultural past and its Native American history to thousands of third-grade students, as well as the guests at other local events. She also taught a series of courses in local history for Chabot College and held popular workshops for teachers.

As one of the “eccentrics” featured in LIVERMORE the movie, Tilli arrived in a convertible and received the red carpet treatment when the film made its debut at the in 2002.

Tilli’s contributions to the City of Livermore and Livermore schools did not go unnoticed. In 2007 she was Grand Marshall of the Livermore Rodeo Parade and was also awarded the Paul Harris Fellow award by Livermore Rotary. Early this year she was presented a lifetime achievement award from the Livermore Cultural Arts Council. She received PTA Life Membership awards from Marylin Avenue and Fifth Street Schools, as well as a variety of awards and commendations from other groups.

Being proud of her Danish heritage, she often quoted the saying, “Some eat to live, Danes live to eat!” On that note, Tilli, her daughters, sister, and niece wrote and published, “The Holm Family Cookbook,” a cookbook that captured stories and recipes from five generations of the Holm Family, including some Danish recipes. Tilli’s stories, drawings and paintings adorned the pages of the cookbook and Tilli loved being involved in the cookbook promotion events where she would tell her stories to the guests.

Tilli loved to entertain, so Tilli and Wayne built a “Party Barn” on their Mines Road property where many parties were held for friends and family. Students of Tilli’s drawing classes also enjoyed potlucks at the party barn.

She was preceded in death by her parents Dick and Ione Holm and brother Jim Holm. She is survived by her husband Wayne; daughters Susan Calhoun (Troy Bowers), Merry Carter (Darrell), Nancy Mueller (Bob); her beloved granddaughters Laina and Whitney Carter; siblings Frank Holm (Joan), Richard Holm, and Patricia Neely; numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins; and close friends Doug and Bobbie Baird.

A funeral service will be held Monday, May 21, 2012 at 12:00 noon, , 3833 East Avenue, Livermore. A celebration of her life will follow at the , 4444 East Avenue, Livermore. 

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Livermore Heritage Guild History Mobile, Livermore Art Association, Melanoma Research Foundation, or .

Diana Garcia May 17, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I remember Mrs. Calhoun in the library at Marilyn Avenue. She was so kind and clearly loved teaching children about the joys of reading and the wonders waiting for us in the library. Sorry to hear of her passing. What a lovely lady, inside and out.
Cheryl Vargas May 17, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Tilli was a wonderful member of our community. She spread friendship and encouraged personal service throughout our city. She was an excellent artist too. Susie and family....I'm very sorry for your loss.
Linda Ryan May 17, 2012 at 02:49 PM
She was such a part of the art community, too, and had such spirit and talent! I'm so glad she got to have that chocolate Kahlua pie and was surrounded by her loving family. That's a blessing. Tillie will be missed.
Mark Tarte May 17, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Tilli, we will miss you. My wife and I received as a wedding gift two water colors that Tilli had painted of my grandmother's house on South G Street. G-d bless you and your family.
Anne Freitas May 17, 2012 at 03:17 PM
I was blessed to be Tilli's care-giver the last weeks of her life. She was such a joy to be around with her stories and her wonderful laugh. Sometimes during your life you meet someone who fills a spot in your heart you didn't even know was empty. Tilli was that person. My life is richer having known her. Anne Freitas
Susan Weiman May 17, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Susie Calhoun was one of my best friends when we attended 5th Street School together, back when I was Susan Schopp. Mrs. Calhoun was such a nice lady to Susie's friends. As a grown-up, I spoke with Mrs. Calhoun every time I saw her at various art and wine events. She just vibrated with life and pride for our beloved Livermore Valley. My thoughts and prayers are with her family. Susan Weiman
Tom Vargas May 17, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Another one of our great Livermore "Old Timers" that have left a wonderful mark on our city and added to it's colorful history. She will be missed. Our prayers go out to your family Susie.
Mary Lou Hodgson May 17, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Tillie was a dear friend and teacher. She will be missed. Her family is in my thoughts and prayers.. Thank you tillie for all you did. Mary Lou Hodgson
JD May 17, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Tillie was a wonderful lady and one of my Grandmothers best friends. I will always remember a phone call she made to me after Christmas time thanking me for my Christmas card that had my children on it. She said, "I sure miss Iris and wish she could be here to see her Great Grandchildren; what a wonderful picture". She did not have to make that call to me--but that's the kind of person she was. We'll now they are together again. RIP Tillie I will always remember you fondly.
Terry Givens May 17, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Tillie, a lifetime of memories, years of guidance for everyone thank you for being a part of Livermore's past and future. Our thoughts are with your family.
Kim H. May 18, 2012 at 07:48 PM
I am 36 years old and I fondly remember Mrs. Calhoun from Marylin Avenue, when she worked in the library. She was the one who got me started into reading. I remember one year that there was a reading contest or something that you could do over the summer and if you read so many books, you would win a prize. I did a lot of reading that summer and I won the book "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein --(I still have that book.) Thanks to her and her encouraging words on books, I fell in love with reading and read all the time. She will be missed. My thoughts and Prayers are with her family. Kim H.

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