Remembering Emerita Professor Janet Gehres – Albright College

Remembering Emerita Professor Janet Gehres

Biology Professor Emerita Janet Gehres ’54 was more than a mentor, educator and friend to countless students who walked through Science Hall from 1962 to 1991. Gehres personally contributed to the development of one of the most challenging and rewarding programs at Albright College, said Karen Campbell, Ph.D., P. Kenneth Nase, M.D. ’55 Chair of Biology.

Gehres, who died on Oct. 14, 2017, was a member of the 13th Street Gang, which means she attended elementary school, middle school, high school and college all on 13th Street in Reading. She graduated from Reading Hospital School of Nursing in 1951, Albright in 1954, Michigan State University in 1961 and did research at Temple Medical College.

When Gehres joined the faculty ranks at Albright, she brought personal experience to the biology department from Reading Hospital where she taught nursing, and she used that knowledge to strengthen the curriculum in anatomy and neurobiology. Graduate programs at prominent institutions began to recognize the special training and skills that Albright students brought with them, so whether you were in the “Gehres gang” or not, a degree in biology from Albright became a ticket to success in graduate and professional programs.

Many Albright graduates and current physicians, dentists and nurses benefitted from Gehres’ teaching, said Campbell, who has been in touch recently with several of her former students. “Her deep and influential presence while at Albright carries on today,” added Campbell. Alumni share their memories of Janet Gehres below.

A gift in memory to the Janet L. Gehres Endowed Scholarship for students studying biology at Albright College, can be made securely online:

photo of Professor Janet Gehres with students

We Remember Janet Gehres…

“There are very few people who populate the ‘Grand Hall of Fame’ in my life. Janet Gehres is one of them. I was a student of hers from 1971-1973, and was her lab assistant during my senior year. During Interim in January 1973, myself and a friend of mine were the first Albright students to work in a hospital in preparation for going to medical school. On our first day we witnessed five autopsies. The doctor doing the autopsies started quizzing us on anatomy. We answered every question correctly. He said, ‘You apparently have a very good anatomy professor.’ That was Janet! This all took place at Allentown General Hospital (now part of Leigh Valley Medical Center). She used her contacts there to gain our acceptance into this new non-existent program. We were based out of the Pathology Department. She stood up for me to the pre-professional committee at Albright when they tried to black ball me for not following their recommended pre-med curriculum. I ended up being the first pre-med student in my class to be accepted into medical school. I graduated from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine four years later and the rest is history. During my senior year, I pulled the cryo-microtome (a piece of equipment that is used to make microscopic slices of frozen tissue to make slides for viewing under the microscope) out of moth balls. I taught myself to use it and ended up with a full set of tissue slides for a mouse, rat and guinea pig by the time I graduated. A full course in the freezing microtome is now taught at Albright. I did this all under Janet Gehres’ tutelage. She challenged me to think on my own and make my own decisions. The highest goal of any teacher. Her steady nature helped me through a difficult time in my life and I am grateful to her beyond words.”

– Robert A. Eslinger, D.O., H.M.D. ’73

“Janet Gehres was devoted to her students, and would go above and beyond the typical role of a teacher to ensure that her kids were supported, encouraged, and provided exactly what they needed to succeed. That is why so many affectionately remember ‘JG’ as the care taker who, though strict at times, had a heart filled with love for her kids.” 

– IdaLynn Wenhold ’76

“What can you say about a person that had such a profound impact on so many people? Thanks to Professor Gehres, and the preparation we received in her histology, neuroanatomy, and anatomy and physiology classes, an entire generation of health care graduates either gained acceptance into graduate school, or had an easy first year once they got there. I can vividly remember her telling aspiring healthcare students to ‘worry less, and work more,’ advice that we all took to heart! Janet Gehres helped jump start the careers of countless health care providers. We are eternally grateful for her, and for the impact she had on our formative years in healthcare.

– Gary Woerz, DMD ’83

“I entered Albright in the fall of 1968 as a day student having graduated from nearby Muhlenberg Twp High School that same year. I graduated high school with mediocre grades, yet was fortunate enough to get accepted to the pre-med program at Albright.

On the day I met my student advisor during orientation week, Marcus Green, Ph.D., I recall him sitting across from me at his desk with my high school transcript in front of him. He looked up at me and said two words: “Six hours,” then he closed the folder and walked toward the door of his office. He opened the door to excuse me and made a final statement: ‘If you don’t study six hours a day you will not make it through the first semester.’

I was petrified as I walked down the hall of the Science Building. In fact, I was convinced I was in over my head and ready to quit before I even got started. Somehow, that day or that week I found myself sitting in the little cubicle that Janet Gehres, who I referred to as JG, called her office. She was going to be my human physiology professor and I wanted to ask her if she thought I had a chance.

I am certain the first thing she said to me as I sat on the solitary wooden chair in her stark office

Was, ‘Get a haircut.’ JG never minced words, but that day somehow she eased my fears, told me to start studying and stop worrying and to come back if I had problems. Well, I did come back. I spent more time in that little office in the next four years than anyplace else on campus. JG was not only an amazing teacher, but a mentor, therapist and a very close friend.

I made it quite successfully through the pre-med program thanks mostly to her. After graduation we remained the closest of friends even though my medical career took me far and wide. Whenever I got back to Reading, visiting JG was always on the top of my itinerary. During all of those years she continued to be a teacher, mentor, therapist and close friend. In fact, after four years of high school, four years of college, four years of medical school and four years of residency training, there was only one teacher/professor that I ever maintained that type of relationship with. That was JG. I continued to visit with her for the next 45 years.

JG never sought out recognition and would probably have a few of her terse words for me for writing this. That’s okay though, because I miss her already. Albright College had something very special in that tiny office.

– Scott Hoffer, MD ’72

“Janet Gehres was one of the most influential people in my life. Her wise counsel helped me find my direction during my senior year Albright College, leading me toward my vocation and my life’s passion in professional dentistry. Over the years she faithfully supported my enthusiasm for dental mission work. I grew to love Janet during our 36 years of friendship. I cherish our times together, and fondly remember our many Christmas Eve lunches at Golden Oaks. Janet was a dedicated teacher and mentor to all her Albright students; her dedication is her legacy to a better world. I am forever grateful to my dear friend, and I will miss her deeply.”

– Scott Gradwell, DMD ’84

“Janet was slightly older than me but was a dear personal friend and a close friend of all the upper class APO’s. She had an affinity towards the APO’s and all the brothers; almost a pseudo brother! She loved and heckled all the brothers who lived in our home on Olive Street. We had a wonderful dialog back and forth with Janet. We all spent many pleasant and sometimes trying times with her. She could understand all the heckling we gave her, but she also returned it!”

– Robert Bieler ’54