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Learn the hows and whys of a fine pairing June 20, 2017

Posted by diannaobrien in ABC Labs, Charles W. Gehrke General, Events.
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On Thursday at a book signing and reading, author Dianna Borsi O’Brien will be talking about how and why the book From the Melon Fields to Moon Rocks came about.

The signing and reading will be 5 to 7 p.m. on June 22 in the Boone County Historical Society at 3801 Ponderosa St.

The book is a biography of a man, entrepreneur and scientist, a result that came about through a fine pairing of a determined man, Charles W. Gehrke, and a persistent, determined journalist. Yes, a fine pairing.

It all started when Jon Gehrke called O’Brien and said he was looking for a writer to help his father write his life’s story. He said they already had a title for the book. O’Brien asked why his father deserved a book. Yes, journalists ask those kind of rude questions.

From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks cover 032917

Jon said his father was an internationally known scientist. In Columbia, with the University of Missouri and two other colleges, the journalist said, those kinds of experts are fairly common. Jon said his father was an entrepreneur as well, having founded ABC Labs, now EAG Laboratories.

O’Brien noted again that in Columbia, Missouri, there are many entrepreneurs. Finally, the journalist noted something unusual about this interchange. The son of a well-known scientist and entrepreneur was calling. Not all successful scientists and business people manage to maintain close, warm family ties that would spur a son to call a cranky, questioning journalist like O’Brien.

Finally, O’Brien said she’d take the job if and only if Charles Gehrke called her. She had no interest in working with someone who wasn’t as determined about the project as she would be.

Several months later, Gehrke called O’Brien to set up a lunch meeting. During that first meeting, the last crucial hurdle came when O’Brien asked Gehrke if he wanted a biography that glossed over anything unpleasant or would she have the freedom to tell about whatever she found? The answer was tell it the way it was.

A fine pairing indeed. The two worked together from 2007 until Gehrke’s 2009 death. Then O’Brien continued to finish the book, using archival materials Gehrke had had stored in his basement, documents from the University of Missouri archives and family archives. Research for the book included interviews with dozens of Gehrke’s family members, friends, associates and former scientist colleagues.

The book, said John Bucksath, an employee of ABC Labs from 1989-2015, including three years as president and CEO, is accurate and concise, and reveals the chemistry that made Gehrke special. He noted, “Anyone who thinks they know Dr. Gehrke’s story should read this book to truly understand the man’s contribution not only to science, but his legacy to his family, the Columbia, Missouri community and beyond.”

The book signing and reading will include a more prosaic pairing. It will include light refreshments and soft drinks and wine for adults. The book will be for sale with or without the signature of the author.

Come and learn how the book went from a son’s suggestion to a biography of a man who rose from poverty to scientific stature that led to his opportunity to analyze moon rocks and start a company that employed 300 people prior to its 2015 buyout by EAG Laboratories.




Available now — From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks March 30, 2017

Posted by diannaobrien in ABC Labs, Charles W. Gehrke General, Events, Publications.
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Now available — the biography of Charles W. Gehrke, From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks.From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks cover 032917

You can buy a signed copy here by clicking the PayPal button below.

The book is also available through  amazon.com and Barnes & Nobel.

A signing and book launch is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 in Orr Street Studios, 106 Orr Street, Columbia. RSVP to Dianna O’Brien at dobrien387@gmail.com

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

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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 the author 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. The company thrived and before its buy out in 2015 it employed about 300 people. Today, ABC Labs now part of EAG Laboratories, a global scientific services company headquartered in San Diego.

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 was released in April 2017.

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

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NASA and Charles W. Gehrke September 14, 2011

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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.


Literary agent reviewing From the Melon Fields to the Moon August 24, 2011

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A literary agent has expressed interest in the manuscript of From the Melon Fields to the Moon.

Getting a book published takes time, from gathering the information to write the book to finding the right agent to find a publisher for the work. Charles W. Gehrke and I began our work together in March of 2007. It started with an outline he’d written and continued through years of interviews of him and 38 of his former colleagues, students and associates. Then, after the death of Charles in February 2009 at 91, as I promised him shortly before his death, I finished the book using the materials from documents and the interviews already recorded.

Now, the next step is getting an agent who will seek a publisher for the book. An agent is reviewing the manuscript and will provide feedback in a few weeks.

Approaching an agent included developing a book proposal for this rag-to-riches story, which is a story with a twist. Because Charles’s story isn’t just that he began life working in the melon fields, it is about how he went from his humble beginnings to a career that included — but didn’t just include — working on the rarest of scientific samples, the moon rocks from the NASA Apollo moon missions.

The keys to his success were not just his intelligence and hard work, but included his bravado, networking and even some publicity hound tendencies.

Another key to his success was his persistence. Even when he analyzed the moon rocks, he and his team didn’t just do it once, he always noted. They ran the tests over and over to make sure the results were accurate.

And that’s the key to finishing this book and to getting it published. Persistence. Now it’s time to wait for the agent to review the book. And if this agent rejects it, another agent will be sought.

After all, that’s what Charles W. Gehrke would have done.