10 QUESTIONS: Intrinsic rewards of community service inspire Cal Mann


Cal Mann was born to a happy family of nine in an idyllic lakeside community near Seattle. He majored in industrial design and marketing, and spent college summers as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska.

He moved to the New York City area to join and build a successful design firm, consulting for Tylenol, Jell-O, Frito-Lay and other top consumer product clients. His community service started in Connecticut as a Big Brother to a fatherless 9-year-old boy. His volunteerism continued by tutoring elementary school readers in Carmel Valley and La Jolla.

When he joined Rotary Club of La Jolla, his activities expanded to working with middle and high school students — especially LJHS Interact Club, a Rotary-sponsored service group that offers volunteer and leadership opportunities to students. Mann organized the program between Interact and Rotary Club of La Jolla to build homes for 23 poor Tijuana families, among other initiatives.

He holds board positions and active leadership roles with Rotary, La Jolla High School PTA, La Jolla High Foundation, La Jolla High Scholarship Foundation and the San Diego District Rotary Youth Leadership Awards Committee.

What brought you to La Jolla?

The great public schools, one of La Jolla’s crown jewels! My wife, Natalie, an exhaustive researcher of all things educational, identified La Jolla’s schools as being a great resource for the edification of our two boys, Ryan and Charlie. That hard work paid off handsomely as both have now graduated La Jolla High and are in the UC system.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

Two things: I’d love to see La Jollans move past some of our minor differences and build on our shared love of the community. Second, it would be great to have Pearl Street transformed into a slower, more pedestrian/shopper-friendly boulevard experience. (Bird Rock is a good example to learn from.)

Who or what inspires you?

Rotarians locally, regionally and worldwide. When people are active in an organization whose motto is “Service Above Self,” it’s not hard to find members who are making a lot of good things happen. People who have overcome small, medium and large challenges are instantly inspiring to me. I may be naive, but I see tremendous potential for humanity and I’m optimistic enough to believe we’re moving in the direction of our higher calling.

What are you currently reading?

I’m digging through “Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve” by Ian Morris. I hope audiobooks count as I’m listening to “God Is Not Great” authored and narrated by the late Christopher Hitchens. My summer aspiration is to beach-read a bunch of well-told stories starting with a reread of Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Assuming my immediate family members are also hosts, the Presidential family, Pope Francis, Lena Dunham, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Sean Penn and Nick Kristof. (I like odd numbers so nine.)

What is it that you most dislike?

Negativity, in myself and others.

What is your most-prized possession?

My “titles” — dad, mentor and Rotarian.

What do you do for fun?

Photography, computer software, reading, watching college baseball and walking La Jolla’s “lanes” (aka alleys).

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Invest in your community. Challenge yourself and test your limits. If you’re not failing regularly, you’re probably not aiming high enough!

What would be your dream vacation?

Italy ... again!