When most people think of retirement, they think of rocking chairs, afternoons on the beach, spending time with grandchildren, and the occasional dinner at Cracker Barrel. But there are always exceptions.
Allyn Gilbert, a retired anesthesiologist, has been flying from St. Helena, California, to Southern Adventist University every summer since 2004 and recently completed his master’s degree in religious studies. But it wasn’t just a love of the Bible that took him thousands of miles from home. His friendship with one of Southern’s professors also played a key role in this seven-year, cross-country journey.
Gilbert began taking religion courses at Pacific Union College (PUC) in 1997 at the tender age of 72. His wife had recently passed away and he wanted to deepen his understanding of the Bible. PUC is located about a 15-minute drive from his house, so it was a good fit even though Gilbert is Anglican and not Seventh-day Adventist. Greg King, dean of the School of Religion at Southern, was teaching there at the time and Gilbert was a student in some of his classes. The two developed a relationship that has had lasting implications.
Over a six-year period Gilbert earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies. Around the time of his graduation at PUC, he found out from King that Southern had a master’s program in religion. Gilbert was thrilled to continue his studies at a higher level and was even more excited to learn that his friend King was taking a job at Southern.
So in 2004, Gilbert began taking an average of one graduate-level class each summer. These classes required 1,500 pages of reading beforehand, three weeks’ worth of in-class time, and a research paper. This considerable workload proved no match for Gilbert’s spiritual stamina. In fact there were three summers when Gilbert actually took two graduate classes! He finished his time at Southern having completed 30 hours with above average grades.
“If all students in their 20s had as much desire to learn as Dr. Gilbert, a man now in his mid-80s, we would really be in great shape,” King said. “He inspires us all with his quest to learn more about God’s word and to deepen his knowledge of a faith other than his own.”