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Feb. 2 Book Talk about behind the scenes January 23, 2019

Posted by diannaobrien in Charles W. Gehrke General, Events.
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As the author of “From the Melon Fields to Moon Rocks,” I’m happy to present two firsts:

  • I’ll be speaking for the first time at the OSHER Saturday Morning Book Talks on Feb. 2, 2019. These monthly events kick off with coffee and cake at 9:30 a.m. followed by an author talk at 10 a.m.  The event will be in 1907 Hillcrest Drive and my appearance is sponsored by Yolanda Ciolli Compass Flower Press. Sales will be handled by Yellow Dog Bookshop, which always has copies of the book on its shelves.
  • Second, below is this website’s first guest written post by Kit Salter, who with his wife Cathy Salter, organizes the OSHER Book Talks.
Here’s what Kit Salter had to say about my upcoming talk (forgive my abridging, Kit).
Dear Osher Saturday Morning Book Talkers:
This is a perfect time to do the first ‘tease’ for our next Osher Saturday Morning Book Talk.  I am up in my ‘studio’ atop a fine structure 165 feet from our house. Cathy has her writing studio and library on the first floor of this converted garage…but upstairs I can now feel the earth move as major blocks of wet snow cascade down toward the welcoming earth below.  I am here because I spent some good hardscrabble (?) time to clear a 165’ path from our house to the garage structure…you all know what that means these several days.  I used a fine-tined pitchfork to slowly scoop and toss, scoop and toss, scoop and toss the wet snow to the side…slowly revealing a mulch path and leaf litter below the beautiful white layer of winter visiting us en route the east coast.
The reason this little bit of physical labor and the profound presence of the demanding of nature seem just perfect is that author Dianna Borsi O’Brien is going to present her work on the biography of Dr. Charles W. Gehrke on the first Saturday morning of February.  Gehrke is a man who came to MU as an Associate Professor in the College of Agriculture in 1949. He had worked two and three jobs from elementary school on in an effort to gain an education to be free of the very marginal living he and his older brother, Hank, and their mother Virginia and three younger children had been struggling with for decades. The book is called From Melon Fields to Moon Rocks: The adventurous life of biochemist and entrepreneur Charles W. Gehrke.(2017)
As Dianna will tell us all, Charles translated all the physical energy that had used to provide a very modest cash flow into the family coffers—augmented more completely by his older brother Hank’s decision to stay in blue collar labor so that Charles could go to Ohio State and work through a Ph.D in elements of farm ecology and biochemistry.   Charles took those skills and turned them into a productive career—and the early founding of what we have come to know as the ABC Labs on Hwy 63 south of Columbia.
This is a great transplant story from rural Ohio to academic Missouri and a long and productive career of the lead scientist charged with the analysis of the first ‘moon rocks’ to come back to Earth. Dianna worked on this book for several years, a good part of it in steady dialogue with Dr. Gehrke.  It is a story that literally takes us from Ohio melon fields to MU moon rocks…and its telling will include the usual supporting cast of homemade scones (welcome again, Sharmini) free hot coffee, and the return (we hope) of Debbie…all of which will make your first Saturday in February remind us how lucky we are to lead the lives we live and be resident in the place we know as mid-Missouri.
Looking forward to seeing you all on Saturday, February 2—coffee by 9:15; scones by about 9:30, words at 10:00…and easy conversation from beginning to end!
A Happy New Year to all!    Kit    657-1577

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

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.



Charles W. Gehrke December 30, 2008

Posted by diannaobrien in Charles W. Gehrke General.
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The web site is designed to highlight the life and accomplishments of Charles W. Gehrke, 1917-2009, and the book, “From the Melon Fields to the Moon,” an autobiography he wrote with Dianna Borsi O’Brien.

The manuscript for the book is complete and a publisher is being sought.

Charles grew up poor, laboring in melon fields as a field hand. After attending Ohio State University, in 1950, he joined the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia. While there, Charles put together a team of chemists who developed a methodology that led them to be tapped to analyze the moon rocks returned by NASA’s Apollo 1969-1972 moon landings.

In 1968, Charles, David Stalling and Jim Ussary founded Analytical Bio-chemistry Laboratories, now ABC Labs, to capitalize on those techniques and others they’d developed for agricultural chemical analysis. Today, ABC Labs is a thriving corporation, employing more than 300 workers .

After retiring in 1987 at 70, Charles pursued the Cancer Research Center a quest for cancer bio-markers. His work in this area continues to be cited. During his career, Charles co-authored 11 books and nearly 300 peer-reviewed scientific publications.

He was also a dedicated friend and family man, able to recall from memory the birth dates of all his grandchildren and even his great-grandchild as well the contact information for dozens of his friends, colleagues and former students.

This website is dedicated to the life of Charles W. Gehrke, which is highlighted in the forthcoming book, “The Melon Fields to the Moon.”