UMSL student Martin Bergmann

(Photo by Alicia Hottle-Sippy)

University City, Mo., resident Martin Bergmann (pictured) was by no means new to academia when he came to the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2001. A career physician, Bergmann earned his BS and MD from Washington University in St. Louis, graduating in 1945. After a stint in the Air Force, Bergmann held a variety of positions in St. Louis-area hospitals culminating in his serving as a senior surgeon of cardiothoracic surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital from 1969 to 1998. A little bit older than the typical UMSL student, he will be 91 this May.

Bergmann’s road to UMSL began when he retired from medicine and his wife wouldn’t stand for him just sitting around the house. He first returned to WUSTL for their Lifelong Learning program but after a few sessions he didn’t find it challenging enough. So for the past 10-plus years, Bergmann has taken at least one regular UMSL course a semester in a range of disciplines including political science, history, gender studies and a variety of others he wasn’t able to take as a chemistry undergraduate in the early 1940s. He’s also taken economics because his grandson was working his way through a master’s in economics program and Bergmann wanted to be able to at least speak the language of his grandson’s interests.

When asked what’s different about higher education now than in 1945, Bergmann doesn’t have to think too long or too hard.

“To see a professor in T-shirt and blue jeans, which isn’t unusual – that sort of took me aback the first time,” he said. “Also, I think (professors) are a lot easier on the students now than they were in my time. No one ever prepared a study guide or a list of topics that might be on the test. The only information that was given was that there’d be a test on this day at this time, bring your pencil.”

This semester Bergmann is taking American Foreign Military Affairs, 1900–Present, a 2000-level history course taught by Kevin Fernlund.

“A long lifetime of experience is an invaluable resource to have in class,” said Fernlund, professor of history. “I mean four-fifths of the material happened in his lifetime. Not to mention he knows so much about St. Louis. He’ll say things that no one else knows, and we’ll all scratch our heads and ask ‘How do you know that?’”

Bergmann said he hasn’t decided what course he’ll be taking in the fall. But he plans to peruse the fall course catalog and pick something of interest before the semester begins.

“Going to school keeps me young,” he said. “You got to stay curious.”

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a second year student in the MFA program at UMSL. His fiction and journalism has appeared online and in print.