Retirement a perfect time to go back to college for local doctor

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As Kiwanis Club president, physician Chuck Gehrke updated the school board on Youth Services Projects last November. Herald file photo by Deb Wuethrich.

When Dr. Chuck Gehrke was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, his love of history almost pulled him away from a future career in medicine. Gehrke remembers discussing a major in history with people and being discouraged from making it a career.

“People would say, ‘What can you do with a history degree, other than teach?’” he said. “There wasn’t much encouragement to study history when I was an undergraduate.”

During his oncology practice at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Gehrke would add history into his presentations at the teaching hospital.

“I have always liked to read and had an interest in history,” Gehrke said. “Knowing history provides me with a little different perspective on modern events.”

Retirement turned out to be the perfect time for Gehrke to dive into history. He started at Washtenaw Community College, taking a class a semester until he exhausted all the classes offered by the college.

He talked with his favorite professor about the possibility of going on to get a Master’s degree. Unlike the response he received as an undergraduate, this time Gehrke was encouraged by his professor to seek out a graduate degree.
Transferring to Eastern Michigan University, Gehrke continued to take one class at a time, immersing himself in the program, but taking his time.

“I enjoy going to school,” Gehrke said. “I do enjoy studying.”

There were even times when Gehrke’s personal history became part of his classes. In one class, there was a discussion about World War II and how rationing affected families. At age 78, Gehrke was able to be a voice of history, not just for his fellow students, but also his professor.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, I was there,” said Gehrke who then explained to his class about rationing in Detroit during World War II.

Although he was the oldest student in his classes, his classmates accepted Gehrke. “The students were fine. We would have good exchanges,” he said. “It made graduate school interesting and fun.”

During his studies, Gehrke had to deal with some health issues, and believes graduate school helped him recover a little quicker. “It was part of the motivation to get up and moving,” Gehrke said. “It was a diversion.”

His college experience was definitely different this time around from his undergraduate years at U-of-M. “If I’m going to go to school now, it’s because I want to do it. It’s a lot more fun,” said Gehrke. “You don’t have the distractions.”

Five years after digging into history, Gehrke walked the December graduation ceremonies at EMU, receiving his Masters Degree in American history. His wife and several of his children and stepchildren came to share the special day.

Gehrke is now considering the next step of his education, by looking into a doctorate program, possibly at the University of Toledo. He plans to get his PhD the same way he earned his Masters — one class at a time.

“I think Chuck’s experience points out that you are never too old to learn,” said his wife Sharell.

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