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    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Community mourns Craig McCalister

    In this April 2018 Day file photo, Veterans Equine Therapeutic Services (V.E.T.S.) instructor and Executive Director Craig McCalister, right, leads a discussion with fellow staff members.(Tim Martin/The Day)
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    It wasn’t hard to find Craig McCalister.

    If he wasn’t actively engaged in literal horseplay at the Veterans Equine Therapeutic Services farm in Stonington, a nonprofit organization he co-founded and where he served as an executive director, he’d be nuancing any of a dozen tasks in the subterranean environs of New London’s 33 Golden Street, the popular live music bar he co-owned.

    In either place, he was a centrifugal force and would have people smiling.

    McCalister, who joined the Navy right out of high school and also served in the Coast Guard, passed away Saturday at his home in New London. He was 54. A cause of death has not been announced.

    “Craig had the biggest heart of anyone I know. He was put on this planet to help people,” said Thor Torgersen, who co-founded the equine group with McCalister and Christina Clark. McCalister and Torgersen served as co-executive directors for the charity, which provides therapeutic services to the veteran community through equine, agricultural and educational activities. “He’d give everything away for this organization. His vision, mission and desire was to help military veterans. Craig couldn’t be patriotic enough.”

    McCalister was a self-described punk music fan and actively arranged the entertainment at 33 Golden Street, which brought him into frequent contact with this reporter. Far from the stereotype of the booking agent, though, McCalister could be found singing along with the bands – onstage or behind the bar, dancing, and even helping to carry equipment down or up the room’s steep staircase.

    McCalister and Torgersen started Veterans Equine Therapeutic Services in 2015, and McCalister, who started at 33 Golden Street as a bartender and booker, eventually became a partner along with the bar’s owner Gene Barousse.

    “I called him Mr. Congeniality,” said Lyn McCalister, Craig McCalister’s ex-wife, by phone from Texas Monday. “Between having a music club and being active in equine rescue, he was definitely doing stuff he loved.”

    James Burke, a soundman at 33 Golden Street, longtime musician and a city councilor, said McCalister “was one of those Teddy bears, always warm and welcoming. He’d be dancing at a punk show, let the band crash on his couches and then take them to breakfast the next morning.

    “And he was passionate about helping fellow veterans for their welfare. Those are two worlds that don’t always intersect, but he was that guy who could bring everyone together and they’d all get along.”

    Matt Covey, a drummer in New York City who played dozens of show during his days in New London, also marvels over McCalister’s charisma.

    “It’s very simple, Craig had the ability to pull people into his world and they’d want to stay. He was at the center, holding us all together, but he had a quality where you’d never consciously think about it even though he was right there in front of you,” he said.

    McCalister grew up in Youngstown, N.Y. and attended Lewiston Porter High School there. He leaves a son, Ian, along with a brother, a sister and a mother. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

    “It’s rare when you have the good fortune to meet someone who is genuinely good to the core,” said Lee Elci, the radio host at 94.9 News Now radio who had McCalister and Torgersen on several times in support of their therapy group. “I can’t recall even one instance when Craig wasn’t thinking about the welfare of his horses and veterans. This is a monumental blow to the entire community.”

    Editor’s note: This version adds the name of V.E.T.S. cofounder Christina Clark and updates information on McCalister’s survivors.

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