102-Year-Old Professor Hailed as Oldest U.S. Worker

Anna Brendle
for National Geographic News
September 26, 2002
"I guess you could say living has been my hobby," said Ray Crist, a
102-year-old professor of environmental science at Messiah College in
Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Crist was honored as America's Oldest Worker in 2002 at a conference held earlier this month in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by Experience Works, a national, nonprofit organization that provides training and employment services for mature workers.

The organization's Prime Time Awards Program is an annual event designed to curb negative stereotypes about older workers.

In addition to Crist, 52 other older workers—most over 100 years old—representing every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were honored.

Crist was singled out as the recipient of the "Oldest Worker 2002" award for his scientific research and ongoing commitment to teaching.

Crist exemplifies a current trend in the workforce; older people make up 10 percent of the workforce but account for 22 percent of the nation's job growth since 1995, according to the National Council on the Aging. By 2005, workers 55 and over will comprise nearly 20 percent of the workforce. Not only are older workers keeping their jobs, but many are getting new jobs at an annual rate of 4.1 percent—more than double the 1.8 percent of the general population.

Long History Pursuing Science

Today, Crist teaches liberal arts students how they might control the impact of the science and technology revolution on society and the environment. He is also working on a bioremediation project to remove heavy metal contaminants from the water and soil. Together with Messiah College, Crist has applied for a patent for the technology.

Crist developed a love for science as a child growing up on his family's farm in rural Pennsylvania.

"I was always interacting with plants and animals, and I became interested in the manner in which ordinary things function. This interest then focused on the chemistry of substances and how those reactions are an integral part of a living system," he said.

After graduating from college in 1920, Crist took his first job teaching and hasn't looked back since. He earned his doctorate in chemistry from Columbia University and stayed to teach. During World War II, he was part of the university's Manhattan Project team, studying how to separate isotopes of uranium for use in the atomic bomb.

After the war, he spent 17 years working in private industry before returning to his true love, teaching.

Don't think he's done that in a retiring way either. Since 1990, Crist's research has been published in 11 international journals, and he has presented at national and international meetings in Atlanta, Chicago, California, Florida, Montana, Sweden, Japan and France.

"He was born before there was even a Nobel Prize in chemistry, and been part of some of the greatest scientific advances in history," said Eli Pearce, president of the American Chemical Society. "We're pleased to count him among our longest-standing members."

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