WHO: Gary Laabs doesn’t see his 50 plus years of professional employment as just work – he has always seen his job as an opportunity to connect with people. And the jobs he has had have allowed him to engage with very different segments of the community. His first foray into the real world after growing up in Wisconsin was to serve as a soldier in Vietnam. He stayed in the army for 20 years and during that time married and settled in Hanover. After retiring from military life, Gary embarked on a corporate career as a human resources executive at Utz Quality Foods. He didn’t even get to finish the cake at his second retirement party before he was diving into his third career – as a nurse.
Gary retired from Utz in December 2006 and one month later, at the age of 65, started nursing school.
“While working at Utz, I started to go on medical missions overseas through my church,” Gary said. “I always wanted to do more on the trips and I knew nursing would provide that opportunity.”
For the past eight years, Gary has worked full time as a nurse at Hanover Hospital.
Gary has also spent the last eight years serving as chairman of the Greater Hanover Healthcare Committee – a program of the Hanover Council of Churches. He recently stepped down from his leadership role but said he’s very proud of the work the organization has done, including starting a free medical clinic four days a month.
Gary said he has been able to touch so many lives through his career and community work because of the blessing of his family. His wife, Eileen, four children and five grandchildren have been supportive of his refusal to settle down.
WHAT: For Gary, it’s all about the people. A self-described man of faith, Gary is driven to not only help people, but to interact with and understand them.
“The connection to people is the line connecting all the jobs I’ve done,” Gary said. “As I gained ranks in the military, I learned how to lead people, how to work with people to get them to do what I wanted them to do. Human resources is all about engaging with people and nursing requires connecting with people, too. That’s what motivates me, working with people.”
A member of Saint Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gary said he went on his first mission trip with his daughter when she was in high school. In addition to having fun, Gary said the trips offer him a chance to do God’s work.
“At the heart of it, I’m a man of faith and it’s one of those things where I feel like I’m giving back,” Gary said. “The interaction with people is my favorite part of the trips, there’s no question about that.”
WOW: He’s accomplished so much and impacted so many, but in some ways Gary is just getting started. In September, at the age of 73, he went back to school to start working on a master’s degree in nursing. The thought of slowing down and doing less has hardly crossed his mind.
“I enjoy learning. At my age, any mental exercise I can get is good for me,” Gary laughed.
Gary said that the master’s degree will allow him to take on other leadership roles in overseas mission trips and make him eligible to teach at local community colleges.
Gary also just returned from a trip to the Galapagos Islands where he worked on a surgical mission for a week and a half.
He credits his seemingly endless amount of energy to eating well (he said his wife, Eileen, makes that happen), moderate exercise and prayer.
“I’ve been blessed in the sense that I’ve been healthy and quite frankly a big piece of it is that I have an active prayer life, I’m talking to God about a lot of stuff,” Gary said.