I hear this pretty often from my freshman. It is one of the reasons why I allow my students to write extra credit papers about famous mathematicians, as a lot of inspiration comes from stories passed down. Maybe when a student reads about Conway, they will see the recreational side of mathematics, or I can use the story of Hypatia to inspire a nobler side of studying mathematics.
Even if a student makes it through Calculus, they have essentially been doing calculations and evaluations their entire mathematical career. A little history can go a long way in giving meaning behind the computations.