A degree of patience: Falmouth man, 85, finally has his master's

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FALMOUTH — A local man finally has his master’s degree, which was more than half a century in the making.

Howard Reiche Jr., 85, began his master’s program at the University of Maine in 1950. After completing two semesters of coursework in zoology and microbial genetics, he passed his final exams and was set to finish his thesis.

But then he was told he was supposed to have taken organic chemistry as an undergraduate at Bowdoin College.

Ultimately, Reiche decided he could not finish, so he took a temporary teaching job. He then spent three years as a medical services corps officer in the U.S. Air Force. Then he would spend more than three decades in the paper industry.

“I’m 85, I’ve had a lot of chances, a lot of years to do things,” Reiche said Tuesday at the University of Maine Regional Learning Center at 75 Clearwater Drive. “I’m in good health, too, which helps.”

He contacted the University of Maine Graduate School in August to ask about finishing his degree as part of his bucket list. It was not the only thing he aimed to tackle.

Reiche said he also picked up the cello again, took up watercolor painting, began swimming each week, and resumed collecting signatures of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He said these were things that had recently “changed his life.”

“I was just doing those things more seriously,” Reiche said. “And then I looked at my bucket list, and there was that.”

Reiche said he made a few phone calls, and one name kept coming up: the associate dean of the Graduate School, Scott Delcourt. Reiche said Delcourt is “the man who made it all happen.”

“It’s amazing what’s possible if you can find somebody to listen to you,” Reiche said. 

Delcourt took Reiche’s story up the university ladder, where it ultimately reached the president, who gave the green light to award Reiche a Master of Professional Studies Degree in Biochemistry because his body of work over the decades was equivalent to the few remaining credits he needed.

On Tuesday, Reiche’s family, Delcourt, and Carol Kim, University of Maine vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School were all present for the the presentation of Reiche’s degree.

“It’s a rare and happy coincidence of people who recognize that there is something right that can be done and should be done to put something in place that is long overdue,” said Jeff St. John, the associate provost for academic affairs, who opened the ceremony.

“It was a disappointment in my life,” Reiche said. “I just kind of talked with (Delcourt) and said is there anything we can do? And he said ‘let me think about this.”

Reiche said it was not a hard decision to come back for his degree. He said he was grateful for the opportunity.

He also said he wasn’t sure what would come next, but he was “going to enjoy” the achievement.

“It’s a great thing when a university can take time out to deal with one person, it really is,” Reiche said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Howard Reiche, Jr., 85, receives his Master of Professional Studies in Biochemistry on Tuesday, Oct. 7, in Falmouth from Carol Kim, University of Maine vice president.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.