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Local author day at Columbia Library October 11, 2017

Posted by diannaobrien in ABC Labs, Charles W. Gehrke General, Events, Uncategorized.
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Mark your calendar! From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Oct. 28, you’ll have another chance to get a copy of “From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks.” The Columbia Public Library is hosting a Local Author Open House at 100 W. Broadway.
I’ll be sharing the space with dozens of other local, mid-Missouri authors offering their books, so it’s your chance to stock up on books for yourself or for gifts for Christmas!
I’ll be selling books and will be accepting cash or credit cards. Softbacks are $20 each.
ABC Laboratories, local firm, now gone global
The book is a biography of longtime Columbia resident and MU biochemistry professor Charles W. Gehrke, 1917-2009, founder of ABC Laboratories, which has since been bought by a global firm. The company employed 300 people and was started by Gehrke and two of his former students in 1968.
Moon Rocks
Gehrke also analyzed samples of moon rocks brought back from the Apollo NASA space flights and proved when other scientists couldn’t that there was no life on the moon.
Rags to riches
But Gehrke didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth nor did he even plan on going to college. It was with the support of his brother and his high school teachers that he was set on the path out of poverty into success as a teacher, scientist, and entrepreneur.
Charles W. Gehrke, circa 1928.

Charles W. Gehrke as a boy, circa 1928.

Learn how Gehrke went from a small town in Ohio to life in Columbia, guiding a laboratory at MU and building with the help of Jim Ussary and David Stalling, a company that employed hundreds of MU grads.

Can’t wait?

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

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The book is available in Columbia at Yellow Dog Bookshop, 8 S. Ninth St., the Columbia Mall bookstore Barnes & Noble and the bookstore at Boone County History and Culture Center at 3801 Ponderosa St.

The book was published March 2017 by Yolanda Ciolli’s firm, Compass Flower Press, and designed by Ginny Booker.

Or buy it here now and have a signed copy shipped to you directly for $20, plus tax and shipping.

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NASA and Charles W. Gehrke September 14, 2011

Posted by diannaobrien in Uncategorized.
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Today’s NY Times article about NASA announcement about developing a powerful rocket to take astronauts into deep space could make it easy to forget how uncertain space travel even to the moon once was.

The history of NASA’s early plans to land on the moon is part of the still to be published autobiography of Charles W. Gehrke, From the Melon Fields to the Moon.

In researching for the book, I found a recording of an interview of Charles for a University of Missouri radio program called “University Up-Close.” The program is archived and made available by University Archives, Division of Special Collections, Archives and Rare Books of the MU Libraries at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In the program, Charles says,

“I doubt there’s much question that what we might find will be either one of two things: We’ll find absolutely nothing except for a bunch of rocks with all the inorganic material in them or it will be at the other extreme, that there will be considerable organic materials in these samples as well as even the possibility as rather complex organic molecules. I really believe we will find these molecules.” (Material provided by the University Archives, University of Missouri-Columbia.)

Today, we take it for granted there’s no life on the moon and no danger of killer germs from our nearest space neighbor, but at the time, when the first person walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, things weren’t as certain.

But what’s important is that Charles and his team of scientists — like those at NASA today — persevered despite the unknowns at the time. That’s a powerful lesson Charles’ autobiography can still teach us, that it is persistence that makes the difference between success and failure.



ABC Labs’ CEO Byron Hill steps down September 7, 2011

Posted by diannaobrien in ABC Labs, Uncategorized.
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ABC Labs saw Bryon Hill, its CEO depart suddenly according to reports on Sept. 2, 2011 in an article headlined “Hill retires as CEO of ABC Labs,” by Jacob Barker in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

But as the book From the Melon Fields to the Moon shows, ABC Labs has had many unusual departures of CEOs and ups and downs.

The company was started by Charles W. Gehrke with Jim Ussary, who would go on to become its first CEO, David Stalling, who would later work for ABC Labs and spin off a company from the firm, and a fourth man, rarely mentioned, who was bought out early in ABC Lab’s history.

Ussary headed up the firm from its inception in 1968 until 1975, the same year the company posted its first positive net income, $86,501. Ralph Waltz took over as CEO, but some say he was forced out in 1990. By then the company posted $1.1 million in net profit. Larry Stambaugh took over until 1992, with his shift from leadership preceded by a vicious and very public stockholders fight, described in detail in a July 24, 1992, Columbia Daily Tribune article headlined, “ABCs of a corporate battle,” written by Theodore P. Roth.

The next CEO was Jake Halliday, now the CEO of the Missouri Innovation Center. Hill took over from Halliday in 2004 and oversaw the company during an expansion phase which has included moving to Discovery Ridge, expanding its campus on Interstate 70.

Yet, despite the history of ABC Labs, the company has thrived through the decades, going from one employee to its current 350-person staff.

The story of how the company has continued, with its ups and downs, is part of the story of Charles W. Gehrke’s life in the book he wrote prior to his 2009 death, From the Melon Fields to the Moon. The first three chapters of the book are available here.