jump to navigation

Paul Pepper and Melon Fields January 31, 2018

Posted by diannaobrien in Charles W. Gehrke General, Events.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Paul Pepper talks about “From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks,” on his show Radio Friends with Paul Pepper. Hear and see author Dianna O’Brien talk about the book.

The show was broadcast on Jan. 31, 2018 — but the book is always for sale at Yellow Dog Bookshop, 8 S. Ninth St., in downtown Columbia, the Columbia Mall bookstore Barnes & Noble and the bookstore at Boone County History and Culture Center at 3801 Ponderosa St.

You can also buy a signed copy of the book for $20 plus tax and shipping by clicking “Buy Now” below.

Dianna O’Brien is available for talks and presentations. You can contact her at dobrien387@gmail.com or by telephone at 573.424.5749.

The book is also available in an electronic form from Barnes & Noble, amazon.com. or buy a signed copy via this website for $20 plus tax and shipping.

Buy Now Button


Three reasons to read From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks June 13, 2017

Posted by diannaobrien in Charles W. Gehrke General, Events.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Why do people read? So many reasons and all of them good for you — the list is below!

That’s why I would love for you to read my book, From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks, and attend the book reading from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 22 at the Boone County Historical Society.

  • To find yourself: Discovering and creating yourself is one of 10 reasons people read, according to the website whytoread.com, a site designed to encourage reading. In From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks, you’ll be able to see yourself in the experiences of the late Columbia resident Charles W. Gehrke, 1917-2009. Perhaps you’ll see yourself in Charles’s experience, growing up poor but that keep him from becoming successful. He was an MU professor from 1949-1987. Perhaps you’ll be able to identify with Charles who toiled in jobs he didn’t necessarily like, such as inspecting slaughtering houses and restaurants for cleanliness. Perhaps you, too, know what it’s like to experience loss. Charles went through the grief of the loss of two infants and an adult son. The list could go on, but perhaps reading From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks might help you see yourself and perhaps imagine something else for yourself, as Charles did when he went off to college, when he began to investigate the moon rocks instead of agricultural fertilizers.
  • To learn: People also read to learn, says whytoread.com. In From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks, Charles tells about what it was like to be a young boy working on a farm in the 1920s and 1930s, how he would jump into the nearby canal to cool off and to stop the nagging itch of wheat mites. He describes why they stacked the wheat sheaves a certain way so rain would run off rather than into the stack. This is information we’re rapidly losing, but you can learn about it by reading.
  • For entertainment: I don’t know about you, but I love to lose myself in a good book. Cares and troubles fall away as I enter another world, one where there is no dust to clean, no deadlines to meet or pesky bills to pay. This is another reason whytoread.com says people read. In From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks, you’ll be transported into a man’s life where his teachers went to his mother’s house to convince her to send him to college, to a time when Charles turned to friends to start a company that went on to employ 300 people before it was sold in 2015 to a global scientific firm, a moment in history when no one knew whether there was life on the moon or not, when a man walking on the moon was fearful and amazing at the same time.

Of course, you can also buy the book at Yellow Dog Bookshop at 8 S. Ninth St. or order it below for $20 plus tax and shipping.

Buy Now Button

Yellow Dog and Moon Rocks June 9, 2017

Posted by diannaobrien in ABC Labs, Charles W. Gehrke General, Events.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

So what does Yellow Dog Bookshop have to do with moon rocks? The bookshop at 8 S. Ninth St., Columbia, is now selling the book, “From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks.”

The book is about Charles W. Gehrke, who analyzed for life the moon rocks brought back from the NASA Apollo moon missions from 1969-1972. Gehrke also founded Columbia-based ABC Labs, which employed 300 people prior to its 2015 buyout by global firm EAG Laboratories.

The book, "From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks", now for sale at Yellow Dog Bookshop on Ninth Street, Columbia, Missouri.

The book, “From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks”, now for sale at Yellow Dog Bookshop on Ninth Street, Columbia, Missouri.

If you’d like a signed copy, author Dianna Borsi O’Brien will be signing and reading from the book from 5 to 7 p.m. on June 22 at the Boone County Historical Society at 3801 Ponderosa St., Columbia, Missouri. RSVP to dobrien387@gmail.com

Or you can buy a signed copy of the biography and have it shipped to you directly for $20, plus tax and shipping.

Buy Now Button

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, a firm that was the first tenant of Columbia, Missouri’s research park, Discovery Ridge. The company employed 300 people before it was purchased by 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 published March 2017.

Buy it here now:

Have a signed copy shipped to you directly for $20, plus tax and shipping.

Buy Now Button



NASA and Charles W. Gehrke September 14, 2011

Posted by diannaobrien in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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

Posted by diannaobrien in ABC Labs.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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

Posted by diannaobrien in Charles W. Gehrke General.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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