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Sunday Profile / Gilbert O. Brink Professor keeps on truckin'

Getting older is no reason to sit alone in the dark and feel sorry for yourself.

Just ask Gilbert O. Brink -- a Jefferson Award winner.

"I feel I've got to keep going as long as I am able," said Brink, who at 77 volunteers from his motorized wheelchair.

Brink contracted polio during World War II and spent more than a year in the hospital. When he was released, his left leg was paralyzed, and his right leg had lost 90 percent of its normal strength. Yet with the help of a long leg brace and crutches, he was able to walk for more than 50 years.

"Then my arms started to give out, and I had to start using a power wheelchair," recalled Brink, former chairman of the University at Buffalo's physics and astronomy department.

From his adapted van, the emeritus physics professor volunteers for Amherst Meals on Wheels.

He also is a literacy volunteer for international students, who need help with their English.

If that weren't enough, Brink puts in time at the Amherst Adult Day Program helping disabled clients and those with dementia, then add the astronomy course he teaches at the Amherst Senior Center.

"He brings with his involvement a great deal of compassion and caring -- this one man offers extraordinary talents and service to the people of our community," said Maureen Blake DeSabio, the center's director of volunteers. She nominated Brink for The Buffalo News and WNED-TV co-sponsored Jefferson Award.

"I feel greatly honored to have been chosen," said Brink, who lost his wife of 40 years in 1997 to muscular dystrophy.

Brink holds a doctorate in chemistry from University of California at Berkeley.

Until he was 13, Brink had lived on a California gold mine.

"My dad was one of the last hard-rock gold miners who never made much money, but dug up a lot of ground," Brink said.

The Brinks lived in a one-room cabin with outdoor plumbing and a wood stove for heat. Brink got plenty of walking in as a boy, hiking a couple miles each way to school.

World War II "put an end to gold mining for a time, and we moved to Stockton, Calif., where my parents worked in a shipyard, and I went to school," he recalled. "I was always interested in science, even as a child. As far back as 10 years of age, I wanted to be a chemist. From about that point on, I had a lab set up at home, and this continued until I graduated from college. I couldn't decide whether it was to be chemistry or physics."

He moved to Amherst in the early 1960s and took a job at Cornell Aeronautical Lab. From 1968 to 1995 he taught at UB.

"I always liked teaching and managed to split my time about equally between teaching and research," he said.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? e-mail: lcontinelli@buffnews.com or write to Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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