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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.


Dr. Charles and Virginia Gehrke scholarship at ABC Labs August 31, 2011

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One of Charles W. Gehrke’s legacies is the Dr. Charles and Virginia Gehrke Scholarship offered to the children of ABC Labs employees.

Both Charles and Virginia Gehrke knew what it was like to struggle to pay for their education.

In fact, Charles always remembered exactly what it felt like to stand at the railroad station in Coshocton, Ohio, waiting for the train to take him to Columbus, Ohio, to attend Ohio State University.

“I had $80 in my pocket at the time. I don’t know why I remember that, but I do,” said Charles in his biography, From the Melon Fields to the Moon. That was money his brother Hank lent him along with some of the money he’d saved from their vegetable growing and selling operation, an operation that entailed Hank and Charles going house to house to sell the produce. Charles hated it. He hated asking for anything, even a sale.

But he did it because his family needed the money. Without a father to help support the family of five children, he and his brother worked hard to support the family.

But even with Hank’s help, Charles did everything he could to pay his own way, including washing dishes and taking all sorts of summer jobs.

And again he asked for help. He’d heard about the Stadium Scholarship dorm at Ohio State University during his first year at college and he knew the price was right; $100 a year for room, which included meals. In 1935, tuition was $75 a year.

The scholarship requirement of having to carry a B average didn’t worry Charles, but students had to be nominated for the honor of living in the Stadium Scholarship dorm.

So he went to see Bland Stradley, vice president at Ohio State University, who happened to live in Dresden, a town near Coshocton.

“I told him I didn’t have any money,” said Charles, and the next year, he had a place among about 300 men in the Stadium Scholarship dorm.

That’s why the establishment of the Dr. Charles and Virginia Gehrke makes so much sense. Now the children of ABC Labs employees won’t have to go door to door with vegetables or find a college official to ask for help; they can simply apply for a scholarship.

For more information on the scholarship, click 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.

Kindle version of Chromatography: A Century of Discovery 1900-2000 August 16, 2011

Posted by diannaobrien in Publications.
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A new technology is making the work of Charles W. Gehrke more available. Two years after his death, one of the books he edited is now available through Amazon.com in a Kindle version.

Charles would have loved it.

Charles started as a boy working in farm fields, growing everything from potatoes to melons, but he never shirked an opportunity to embrace technology. During his career as a scientist, he went from simple, wet chemistry to chromatography and along the way analyzed everything from farm soil to moon rocks. Only weeks before his death in 2009, he launched this website.

Now, his book, Chromatography A Century of Discovery 1900-2000: The Bridge to the Sciences/Technology is available through Amazon.com in a Kindle version. The book, edited by Charles and his long-time colleagues Robert Wixom and Ernst Bayer, is available by clicking here.

Charles spent his life dedicated to discovering the next new discovery and sharing that information. This next step of making his work even more available would have pleased Charles to no end.

C.W. Gehrke, R.L. Wixom, E. Bayer, eds. Chromatography A Century of Discovery 1900-2000: The Bridge to the Sciences/Technology. Elsevier, 2001, 709 pp. Click here to buy this book from Elsevier. Click here to buy a Kindle version of the book from Amazon.com