Jerry Kerkhof is clearly off his rocker. And if the effervescent
fitness enthusiast and former NIH'er has his say, he intends
to stay that way.
|Jerry Kerkhof celebrates the “Big
For the past 22 years, Kerkhof has been opening the NIH Fitness
Center four times a week for a number of early risers who have
dubbed themselves "Jerry's Kids." On June 14 at 5 a.m., amidst
a darkened room and one unsuspecting gym rat, the "kids" threw
Kerkhof a surprise party marking his 80th birthday.
"I love Jerry and trust me, I'm not the only one," remarked Diana
Chambers, an NCI employee and the party's organizer who has known
her friend for some 15 years. "I don't know what we are going to
do when Jerry finally retires. His dedication to his job and to
everyone he encounters is incredibly inspiring."
A former Boston Marathon participant who has run in virtually
every major city in Europe and Australia, Kerkhof worked for the
National Library of Medicine from 1965 to 1985, serving as personnel
officer, deputy executive officer, chief of the Office of Administrative
Management Services and management analyst. Prior to that, he was
employed by the Army Air Corps (where he worked as a physical training
instructor and was a boxer) and also served in World War II. "What's
good is that when there's news in the world, I can say I've been
there and done that," Kerkhof said. Since his federal retirement
in 1985, he has been a Fitness Center employee.
At 80, he may admit to slowing down — but just a little. Many mornings
find Kerkhof working out on the treadmill or one of the other exercise
machines, right next to his friends. "This is my morning family.
These wonderful people tease me for being old and I tease them
for being young," said Kerkhof, who admits a fondness for telling
jokes and discussing politics and other issues of the day with
his early morning comrades.
|Friends toast Kerkhof at a surprise bash held at the NIH Fitness Center
in Bldg. 31.
As for growing old successfully, his advice is "keep breathing." More
seriously, Kerkhof says it's important to stay active, have a sense
of humor, maintain a social network of friends and travel. "If
you lived a good life, then you can look back at the many pleasant
things you can remember and that will take you far. And don't think
of retirement as a time to fade away — on the contrary, it's really
a time to thrive," noted Kerkhof, who has two children and two
His most significant personal setback was the passing of his wife
Joan last year. But the Fitness Center folks helped him through
it. "Like I said," he concluded, "they are my family."