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This website highlights the life and accomplishments of Charles W. Gehrke, 1917-2009, and his biography, From Melon Fields Moon Rocks, he wrote with me, Dianna Borsi O’Brien, prior to his death in 2009 at age 91.

The book was published March 2017, and you can buy a signed copy here.

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So what’s From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks about?

Charles W. Gehrke was unflinching. Determined. Persistent.

He grew up among the poorest of the poor, yet carried only happy memories of those early years. Out of necessity he learned the value of hard work, as he and his brother helped support their family even as children — but he never complained and never stopped working even during his final days on this earth.

In the 1960s, his work searching for amino acids, the building blocks of life, drew the attention of NASA which would soon launch missions to the moon. Charles was tapped to investigate the lunar samples for signs of life. Spoiler alert: He didn’t find any — but a transcript I uncovered of a radio program from that time shows that he thought he would.

In 1968, he did something else unusual at the time and brought his research to the marketplace, launching ABC Labs, an firm that today employs about 300 people and was the first tenant of Columbia, Missouri’s research park, Discovery Ridge.

The book, From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks highlights the adventurous life of Charles W. Gehrke, a biochemist, entrepreneur and family man.

Published by Yolanda Ciolli’s firm, Compass Flower Press, and designed by Ginny Booker, the book will be released in September 2015, but you can reserve your copy now and be the first to get From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks.

Have it shipped to you directly for $20, plus tax and shipping.

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For information about the book or this website, please contact me at 573.424.5749 or dobrien387@gmail.com.

Why a book about Charles W. Gehrke? His story shows how brains, persistence, an entrepreneurial spirit and a taste for publicity can take someone from melon fields to moon rocks.

Charles was born in 1917 in Canal Lewisville, Ohio, a small town of roughly six square blocks. By the time he was 12, his father had been put on a train and told to never return; the local police had decided he’d beaten his wife one too many times. From then on, Charles’s mother had to walk 3 miles to nearby Coshocton to clean houses to support herself and her five children.

To help their family, Charles and his older brother Hank went to work in the nearby melon fields and farms to add to their mother’s earnings. Despite these tough beginnings, with the encouragement of two of high school teachers and the help of his brother, Charles headed off to college at Ohio State University.

As a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Charles went on to analyze the moon samples brought back to earth from the Apollo missions, using methodologies he and his team developed for gas-liquid chromatography to detect amino acids, the building blocks of life at an accuracy level until then unknown.

Then, in 1968, he did something else rare at the time and founded a company to put to work the various methodologies he and his team pioneered. ABC Labs, the company he founded with James Ussary and David Stalling, employed more than 300 workers prior to its sale to EAG Laboratories, a San Diego based international firm.

In the 1970s, he shifted his focus to search for cancer biomarkers, indicators he was certain would eventually allow for more accurate and discrete cancer detection and treatment.

Following his 1987 retirement from the University of Missouri, Charles then went on to write or co-edit 10 books. Prior to retirement, his publications totaled nearly 300 peer-reviewed articles.

While he was an accomplished scientist and entrepreneur, he considered his community contributions and family life as important as his other efforts. Throughout his life, Charles could recite from memory the birth dates of each of his grandchildren and his great-grandchild, as well as noting where they were at that moment and what they were doing.

As a father, he also suffered one of the greatest losses a parent can know. His first-born son, Charles Junior, died at age 34 in a U.S. Navy training airplane crash in 1982. Finally, he lost his greatest support, his wife Virginia, who died on December 25, 2006, their 65th anniversary.

As always, Charles turned to his work and a few months later he began working on the book, From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks.

In fact, Charles never stopped working or caring about his family. Two weeks before his death he was still issuing reminders about what should be included in the book. Then, when he knew his time was near, he asked all his grandchildren to visit him and he spent a few private moments with each one, giving them a message for the future.

I don’t know what he told them, but as the co-author of his biography, I am certain it had something to do with helping others, working hard and keeping the focus on family.

Again, for more information about the book or this website, please contact me at 573.424.5749 dobrien387@gmail.com.


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