Robert Dorr, 68, knows it’s never too late to go back to school

Robert Dorr

After retiring from a long career in the auto industry, Robert Dorr enrolled at UMSL, finishing a college career he started in 1966. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When Robert Dorr earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri–St. Louis last month at the age of 68, he was finishing a process several decades in the making.

He began his undergraduate career at St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley 50 years ago, when classrooms there were still in trailers. And like a lot of students, after a short time at STLCC, Dorr transferred to UMSL. This was in the late ’60s, and Dorr admits that his studies were far from his primary concern.

“I got good at Spades and Hearts,” he says. “Algebra, not so much.”

On top of that, the Vietnam War was raging on at the time, and Dorr enlisted as a U.S. Army medic in 1968, feeling it his duty as a citizen to serve the country. After a deployment to Vietnam, he returned to St. Louis – but not to college. Those ambitions took a back seat to what became a long-time career in the auto industry, selling all makes and models over the course of five decades.

“I had a good career in sales,” says Dorr, who together with his wife raised two daughters. “But something was missing.”

Practical matters took precedence, but his affinity for art and literature continued through the years. When he retired in 2011, Dorr joined the Saint Louis Art Museum‘s docent program, in which he and other members of the community work with K-12 teachers on art and art history curriculum design and give tours to students.

Eager to better serve in that voluntary community role, Dorr decided to return to UMSL several years ago to take several art history courses. One of those was an independent study with Professor of French and Art History Jeanne Zarucchi. Knowing of Dorr’s military service, she gave him two pictures to compare and contrast. One image was of a seated Alexander the Great watching priests measure gold. The other depicted a gold coin with the ancient ruler’s face on it.

“I handed in my paper,” Dorr says, “and afterwards Professor Zarucchi said, ‘Robert, where’d you learn to write like that?’ She really liked the writing.”

But Dorr’s renewed studies again came to a halt for a while, despite the positive experience. After satisfying his requirements to serve as a docent, he stopped taking UMSL classes. Then, one day at the art museum, he bumped into Zarucchi, who encouraged him to come back and earn a degree. Dorr took her advice to heart and credits Zarucchi as the primary reason for his recent graduation from the university, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in December.

“I have great admiration for Robert, who never gave up on his passions for art and creative writing,” Zarucchi says. “His example should inspire others by proving that it’s never too late to pursue the goal of higher education. I’m not only proud of him – I’m also proud to know him.”

When Dorr spoke with UMSL Daily near the end of his final semester, he was in the middle of finishing a rough draft of a novel he was writing for an English class, and he also needed to polish a screenplay for another writing class. But with a few weeks left, he wasn’t worried about any of that.

“If you’re going to wish me luck, wish me luck on the math test I still have to take,” he said with a chuckle. “My kids have given me so much grief about math this semester.”

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