Bob Gersten ’42 has enough memories for several lifetimes, and while he likes to reminisce, at 94 years old he also likes to live in the here and now — and plan for the future.
Gersten, the oldest living former UNC baseball and basketball player, hosted the inaugural “Walk for Health” Saturday, where about 75 people walked the mile from the tennis courts behind Cobb dorm to the parking lot of the UNC System’s headquarters on Raleigh Road.
He’s already talking about next year’s walk and thinking about the walk when he’ll be 100.
“I can’t stand when people do nothing — you’ve got to stay active,” said Gersten, who mentors medical students every couple of weeks and plays tennis regularly. “Walking’s virtue is that it’s less liable to cause real damage to your joints. I’d rather run, but you can’t run all the time.”
Regardless of age, everyone should walk as much as they possibly can, “at least a mile a day,” he said.
He did that and some Saturday as the never shy Gersten asked strangers playing tennis if he could hit with them a while as he waited for the start of the walk.
He talked to anyone listening about how the campus has changed since he played basketball with George Glamack ’41, who was an All-America player in 1940 and 1941.
“We were the first ones to play there at Woollen Gymnasium,” said Gersten, a physical education major, who refers to Carmichael Arena next door as “new.”
While his hearing sometimes suffers, his mind is sharp. “Usually your body goes first,” he said with a laugh.
“I had pneumonia when I was 16, but since then, absolutely nothing,” said Gersten, a Long Island, N.Y., native. The sickness caused him to miss playing football that season. “Otherwise, I probably would have gone to William & Mary to play football,” he said. The Tribe’s coach, Branch Bocock, who years earlier coached UNC football, had written him a nice letter. “So, I thought I might go there,” he said.
Ultimately baseball and basketball were his sports, and he planned to go to George Washington on a basketball scholarship. But after a couple of older friends went to UNC and raved about it, he had second thoughts. Then his father, who traveled to North Carolina twice a year selling ladies’ handbags, told him he thought he should go to college in Chapel Hill — even without a scholarship.
He’s glad he did. “I love everything about it,” he said. “Look how gorgeous it is today. What a day. Are we lucky or what?”
Lucky walkers included Bill Teague ’52, who walks three days a week at the Raleigh YMCA; a number of students, who expressed their admiration for Gersten; and a Chapel Hill retiree, who played basketball under Gersten in Long Island as a teen.
Gersten also was fortunate to have his wife of 70 years, Libbie Izen Gersten ’44, whom he met in Chapel Hill, with him on this day, along with son Richard Gersten ’70 and his family.
Richard runs the family’s Brant Lake Camp in New York, where for 70 years his father has spent his summers.
Richard also introduced his father to William Thorpe, who now drives the elder Gersten to play tennis and golf and who organized the Walk for Health.
Thorpe believes that walking is the best physical fitness exercise and that no one can better promote a lifelong interest in maintaining physical fitness than Gersten.
“Bobby is the best example for living a long, healthy life,” Thorpe said.
— Clifton Barnes ’82