Nashville native Caleb Ludwick came to Chattanooga to go to college at Covenant College in 1990. “Before that my only experience with Chattanooga was coming down to the Choo-Choo with my family and staying in the train cars,” Caleb admits. “I grew up in a family of five - myself, my parents and a brother and a sister. Dad was a lawyer. One day, when I was about 16 he sat us all around the kitchen table and said, ‘I’m tired of being lied to. I am going to seminary.’ He and my mom are now missionaries in Salt Lake City.
Caleb has a sister who lives in Salt Lake City as well, with her husband who is a doctor (and a snowboarder). His brother lives in the Netherlands and works for a counseling and recovery center. “We are all over the place now. I am the only one that still lives in the South,” Caleb notes.
“My first job was cutting lawns, it was pretty short lived - I wasn’t very good at it. I was terrible!” Caleb confessed. “In fact, I remember the vice president of a graduate school who was a good friend of my dads who let me cut his lawn. I had my headphones on, playing music, and I wasn’t paying attention. The left side of the lawn mower was lower and cutting really close and the right side was higher. When I finally looked back, the whole front yard looked like a mountain landscape, I just hacked it to pieces. Big gouged spots where the grass was high …this was not the job for me,” Caleb divulged.
“I always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to do something in the creative field, but growing up with an attorney for a father and a school teacher for a mother, I knew being brought up in the South that ‘you make a living and provide for your family’ - I wasn’t sure how to do what I wanted to do,” Caleb confides.
Caleb married his wife Krista who grew up in Harrison Bay. They had moved away from Chattanooga a few times as they traveled abroad and attended school. “I worked my way through graduate school in St. Louis, cleaning churches and office buildings. I had gone to Covenant here in Chattanooga and then to Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and then onto England and France and got my other graduate degree while my wife went to culinary school.
“We went over there blind - but we were young and adventurous,” Caleb insists.
Krista had finished culinary school and cooking for a Duke at his estate just outside of Nottingham, England. She had called Caleb stating that she could not stop throwing up. The caretaker drove Krista home and, as he threw his little hat in his car, he said, “Congratulations!” to Caleb. Baffled, Caleb asked, “What do you mean?” to which the caretaker exclaimed, “She can’t stop throwing up. You do know why, right?” Krista was pregnant.
“My wife didn’t know any French and while my French is good - it’s not that good. I tried to explain in French to the obstetrician what she was feeling, translating to the doctor, ‘she feels like the baby is bouncing on a balloon in her stomach’ or ‘she feels like there is a keg of beer inside of her’… and the doctor was chuckling the whole time… we found out after several visits that the doctor spoke English. When we were moving back to England and getting really close to term the doctor said, ‘It’s been a real pleasure knowing you,’ in English. I said, ‘You did not do that to me to the whole time!’” Caleb laughs.
Receiving a masters in literature, Caleb was planning to get his PhD and stay abroad a little while longer until the attack of Sept. 11th happened. The Embassy told him that his five-week-old daughter was a ‘resident of nowhere’ and they needed to decide what they were going to do.
The graduate was not really sure what to do. Caleb and Krista decided to move back to Chattanooga. “It’s funny, coming back here,” he says, “how much it ‘felt’ like home. I think that is the point where we just knew. It was going to be hard here, especially with the career paths that we had chosen, but Chattanooga is a place worth living and a place worth investing in and that is when we decided that we really loved it,” Caleb vows.
“We later had our second child, Evelyn, and were serious about not having any more children. Then about six years later, my wife wanted to adopt. We had tried to adopt a child here in the U.S. but it is a lot harder to accomplish than to adopt a child from China, so we adopted Mia from China,” Caleb noted.
After being around an attorney father, Caleb found himself once again near attorneys. “My first job after college was typing dictation in a law firm here in town. I was the only guy in the whole law firm that was pushing the pedal under the desk and typing up notes. One day one of the partners came in and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I let them know that I was doing some pro bono work and trying to establish myself as a writer and a marketing person. He made me marketing coordinator for our firm. For about a year, I was marketing director for the state. But the whole time, I was always doing free work around town, finding businesses that didn’t have anyone telling their stories,” Caleb says. “Ten years later, I have my own company; I work with clients all over the country, some in Europe as well.”
He explains, “I create communication strategies for corporate and non-profit clients across America and around the world - I work primarily with design agencies or product designers and bring the best of what I learn back to Chattanooga to do good work right here at home.”
Most people do pro bono work after they have had a career or have retired; Ludwick was doing it early on. When the Chattanooga Market was just starting up, Caleb asked “Who is in charge here? I am a writer, I love what you are doing - but nobody knows about it. How can I help you get the word out?” he would prod.
“My company is not the sort of thing that could have existed 10 years ago. I started while still at the law firm; straight writing and marketing, writing ads for brochures and websites.” Caleb adds, “I was really young in my career but willing to do work for free - working with graphic designers that were really talented.”
Noting that he was on the same page with a few designers with the same type of ideas, Caleb says, “Our paths would cross and they would say, ‘Hey you are the guy doing all this pro bono work’, and I would say, ‘Hey you are the designers doing all this pro bono work’ and we said, ‘let’s do stuff together for people’. I ended up working with them to help shape these stories. We started off doing ‘free jobs’ and we liked working together - we still do. We started selling work rather than just doing it for free and that is where my career really took off,” Caleb relates.
“More than half of what I do is help create new brands," he adds. “When there is a manufacturer that wants to launch a new product, the graphic design team and I will go in and help name it, create the logo, the look and the message. We help non-profit businesses tell their stories; we help big corporations to connect with their audiences. The designers come along and bring it together visually and, when the graphics and the words come together it is even more powerful,” Caleb says enthusiastically.
Early on, he had entered a lot of competitions in which he had won awards. Caleb worked on another project with a company called Tricycle and wrote and edited articles about sustainability, in collaboration with a group of designers. It is a permanent collection in the Smithsonian’s National Design Museum.
“We were a young company trying to make our voice known in the carpet industry. We found a bunch of magazine editors or design leaders and asked them to write about what was wrong and what was right about sustainability and carpet manufacturing at the time. That experience was a lot of what inspired the book that I just published in January,” Caleb insists.
The book is called, “The First Time She Fell” and is a collection of short stories. “Thanks to a MakeWork grant, we printed it as a short run book. I wrote eight original stories - all set in Chattanooga - and gave each story to a different graphic designer to interpret visually. Hopefully we will get some attention for the city,” Caleb says.
Being very committed to Chattanooga, Caleb admits to having a job offer just this week to leave the city but he says, “I've been so fortunate to help create a design culture in Chattanooga that you can see when you drive through downtown. I want to help do the same for writing and to say that this is a place where writers can come and build creative muscles and to try new things having the support of our community.”
“And the more creative projects that say ‘Made in Chattanooga’ on them right now - the better.”
To learn more or to contact Caleb Ludwick, visit his website at http://26tools.com/