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Dr. Charles Gerstmeyer

Dr. August Gerstmeyer and his wife Elisabeth (Brown) Gerstmeyer welcomed a son, Charles, into their world on January 30, 1844 in Mainz, Germany. In 1852 the couple packed their belongings and emigrated to the United States with sons Charles, Robert and Julius in tow. By 1860 they had settled in Richmond, Indiana, but pulled up stakes again in 1861 and relocated to Terre Haute where the senior Dr. Gerstmeyer opened his medical practice. Charles attended the Ohio Medical College, graduating in 1867, after which he joined his fatherís medical practice.

On October 17, 1871 he married Miss Agnes Schofield, but the marriage was short lived, ending in divorce. On January 14, 1890 he married again to Miss Ernestina Meckel, with whom he spent the rest of his life. There is no record of Dr. Gerstmeyer having any children. Dr. Augustus Gerstmeyer died in 1882, with Elizabeth preceding him in 1876. Robert died in 1867 and Julius in 1880.

Charles was very active in the local community, was elected Vigo County Coroner in 1871, and served three terms. In 1874 The Vigo County Medical Society was established, with Dr. Gerstmeyer a charter member. He served on the Terre Haute Board of Health for six years, was an early staff member at both Union and St. Anthonyís Hospitals, and was the 11th doctor in the state of Indiana and the first in Terre Haute to perform a Caesarean section.

He carried on his father's practice in the office that was located in the home he had shared with his parents at 15 S. 8th Street. A dedicated professional, he remained at the forefront of medical and surgical procedures, advances and innovations. Like so many in the area, he was an avid mushroom hunter, and spent much of his free time in fishing and exploring nature throughout the area.

Dr. Gerstmeyer successfully ran for a seat on the Terre Haute school board and served from 1916 to 1920. His primary emphasis was vocational education for local boys and men. The passage of the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act of 1917 was a time of great promise for the United States. It promoted nationwide support for the vocational training of boys and men in an effort to reduce poverty and quell unemployment through formal education and training in the areas of agriculture, building trades and manufacturing skills. The program was later expanded to include education and training for girls and women in the areas of dressmaking, milllinery, nutrition and cooking, home management and office skills. Dr. Gerstmeyer was a staunch advocate for the new effort and worked tirelessly bring it to the Wabash Valley. So deep was his commitment to the training that he donated $1,000 (roughly $12,000 in todayís dollars) of his own money to establish a vocational education department within the Terre Haute school system.

In 1922, when Rose Polytechnic Institute (later renamed Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) moved from its campus at 13th and Locust Streets to its current location east of town. Rose "Poly" left behind a huge edifice just waiting for new life. That building became the new city-wide technical training school known as Terre Haute Boys Vocational High School. Just a few days after his death, by unanimous vote of the school board, the Terre Haute Boys Vocational High School was renamed for its most ardent advocate and became known as Gerstmeyer Vocational School. Although it went through a number of changes over the years, the school remained true to its technical training programs until the doors closed for the last time in 1971.

Even after his death, his widow Ernestina, continued his tradition of personal and philanthropic support of the school, donating another $1,000 in 1930 to purchase uniforms and instruments for the school band.

Dr. Gerstmeyer died July 27, 1922, and is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery on north Third Street in Terre Haute. Mrs. Gerstmeyer died on April 17, 1931, and was laid to rest next to her husband. Their graves are beautifully marked with a fitting tribute to a generous couple who demonstrated immense dedication and support for a Terre Haute institution beloved by so many who came after them.

Click here for a short history of Gerstmeyer Technical High School.