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Vol. LVIII, No. 15
July 28, 2006

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'Jerry's Kids' Show Respect
Gym Personality Kerkhof Gets Birthday Surprise

Jerry Kerkhof celebrates the “Big 8-0.”  
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.

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 grandchildren.

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."

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