Bob Duch sat in class, ready for it to begin. He had three pencils lined up alongside the book the class was reading and a binder filled with papers. As soon as the professor walked in, Duch slid out an article he found about the author of the book, as well as some notes he took about it.
Truly an exceptional student, he sat in class listening to his peers for as long as he could.
“I’m sorry, I can’t stay quiet any longer,” Duch said passionately, and proceeded to tell the class about the article he found.
Every head snapped to attention when Duch spoke. Everyone in the room seemed to hang on his every word because he had life experience to contribute to the class.
Duch is a non-traditional student, but perhaps a little bit more non-traditional than others.
He’s 91 years old.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 1949 and a master’s from Yale in 1951, his schooling in economics led him to a life working in insurance and raising his kids with his wife Ruth. Mr. and Mrs. Duch raised their family of five in New Jersey, and then moved to Rutland 10 years ago to be closer to three of their daughters.
Because Duch is over 60, he is able to attend Castleton University for a mere $50 per semester, as long as there is room in the classes he wants to take. He has to get special permission from the professors, and does not take the classes for credit.
He is really just in them to learn.
He praised all of his professors, including Richard Clark, Carrie Waara, and Judy Robinson.
“I love to hear the subject matter taught by someone who knows what they’re talking about,” Duch said.
Duch said he has loved every class he has taken, but one that sticks out was Roots: A Historical Perspective, taught by Waara.
Waara stated that she loved having him in class, and the students loved him as well. At the beginning of the semester, there were a few students who gathered around his desk by the window before class began to discuss the previous night’s readings.
As the semester went on, more and more students gathered around him, until nearly the entire class was standing at attention, according to Waara.
“It was great having him in class. He was able to stimulate historical empathy. He provided little insights about different time periods that we don’t think about, because he was there,” Waara said.
Clark, an associate professor Duch is taking a class with this semester, had similar views.
“Honestly, he probably brings more to the class than he takes away. It makes us fortunate to have him there. We forget why diversity is important. It brings viewpoints that enrich the conversation,” Clark said.
Duch is a World War II veteran, having served with the Army Air Care.
“Back in the day, after the war, we were all just concerned about getting home, marrying our sweethearts and getting jobs. In any judgement we make, we need to put ourselves in that situation,” Duch said.
And that’s what he does for his classmates. He allows the students to see things from different viewpoints.
“He’s a pretty smart guy. It’s great because he brings personal experience and useful anecdotes to the classroom about things that we’ll never go through,” said fellow student Dustin Lewis.
Another classmate, Caedin Ostrow, felt the same way.
“It’s almost like having another professor. We have one, who has mastered the material, and then Bob, who has lived through it. He brings so much to the class,” Ostrow said.
It has been over 60 years since Duch got his master’s degree. Many things have changed in economics since he was in school, and a lot of his motivation to return stemmed off of that.
A big fan of reading, Duch said he read all of the literature about the “financial debacle” in 2008. Economics is a passion of his, and he wanted to be around people who like to talk about what he likes to talk about.
“As you get older you think you’re getting smarter, and then you come to college and find that that’s not true,” Duch said.
After meeting him in the Rutland airport last October, Professor Lillian Jackson found Duch intriguing and wanted to get to know him better.
“He’s just such an interesting guy with an interesting story. I always see him underlining things in his textbooks. He just felt that he needs to brush up on things, and I think that’s so great. I love chatting with him when I see him in the hallways,” Jackson said.
So what’s Duch’s favorite thing about Castleton?
He loves the library, the professors and the ladies in admissions.
“I love them. They take care of me. I don’t like to fill out paperwork, and they do all they can to help me,” Duch said.
Waara tried to hire him as a proctor for her class since he had so much experience, but he politely declined, saying he had more classes he would like to take.
“I’d like to take everything,” Duch said.