“Historians aren’t supposed to write hagiography,” I wrote one Father’s Day, “but what can I say: [my] Dad is the most brilliant, hard-working man that I know, utterly committed to serving others with his gifts, time, energy, and ample vision.” Midway through a career in which he had started a pediatric intensive care unit, won teaching awards at the University of Minnesota, and built a world-class medical research lab, Dad moved to southwestern Virginia to start a bustling practice in a rural county that didn’t have a pediatrician. And he’s a deacon and teacher at his church. And a self-taught photographer. And a loving husband, father, and grandfather.
But here’s yet one more reason that Dr. Dick Gehrz is a terrific guy: for the past five years, he has put countless hours into building an evening/weekend basketball program at Memorial Baptist Church in Pulaski, Virginia, one that has not only won tournaments against better-funded AAU teams, but has helped hundreds of lower-income students finish high school, make the transition to the work force, and experience the love of God, all at the same time.
So it’s gratifying to see Dad get some significant recognition early this year. A congratulatory letter from former Virginia senator John Warner prompted a profile yesterday in Pulaski’s newspaper, The Southwest Times:
Gehrz was professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota until 23 years ago when he opened a private practice in Pulaski County.
“Almost all of these guys have been my patients since they were newborns. I’ve known them their whole lives, but I really got to know them when we started this basketball program five years ago,” he explains during a recent Wednesday practice, as he points his hand around the gym where loud, boisterous young men dribble a ball up and down the court.
(And while she wouldn’t want me to go into detail about all the ways she has helped out with this program, I’m also glad that my mom was mentioned in the story as well.)
While we were staying in Virginia for my fall sabbatical, we got to watch the team win a tournament in Roanoke. Exciting as the basketball was, it was even more amazing to watch the relationships between Dad and the players. As the Times article continued:
Certainly, the players seem to affectionately gravitate to Gehrz to ask questions, cajole, tease and, sometimes, to give a bro hug.
“I’m on a first-name basis with everyone of these kids, and they’re on a first-name basis with me,” Gehrz says. “The conversations you have when you’re one on one are really pretty incredible. It’s hard to express how fortunate I feel to have the opportunity to get to really know all of these kids. They’re friends.”
You can read the full article here.