By Tom Holmes
GAINING SELF-ESTEEM, THE POST HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
"The standard operating procedure at UIC," Bob recalled, "was to accept high school students who had what today would be called a B average or better. There was no entrance exam. What they did was to make the first two semesters back breakers, and that would sort out those who would continue from those who washed out."
Bob survived his first semester, but when his family called him to go to work in order to bolster the family's finances, he couldn't juggle both his job and school, and school was dropped. Mark Twain's quip, "don't let school get in the way of your education" proved to be prophetic for the next leg of Bob Sherrell's life journey.
The job this bright, promising, Negro young man got was that of an inhalation therapy technician at Michael Reese Hospital. Following his father's mentoring, Bob kept his nose clean, worked hard, and impressed his superiors enough to be promoted to the day shift. He was not being ordinary. "I think my father felt very proud of me," Bob said, "when he would pick me up after my shift was finished. I wore this starched white uniform, and I actually looked like a doctor."
Dr. Sorter, a Jewish physician who had been in a Nazi concentration camp, saw the potential in her 19 year old assistant and not only encouraged him to go back to school but also talked to him about going to medical school, as had Dr. Quinn. Thinking it might whet his appetite to study medicine, Dr. Sorter trained him to also draw blood, a task at which Bob became so proficient that doctors would call on him when they couldn't find a vein.
"She really pumped my ego," Bob said about his Jewish mentor. "She really made me feel special. I felt a lot of esteem."
Motivated by all the positive reinforcement he was getting, Bob went back on the night shift and returned to classes at UIC. Emulating his father's approach to life, he went to school during the day and worked at Michael Reese at night for three years. "I don't know how I did it," Bob said as he looked back 50 years later. "I wasn't even sure what I wanted to be at that time. I knew what I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be a failure, a mop swinger, just an ordinary common laborer."
Bob wasn't Sonny anymore. He was on the road to success. He was movin' on up. That is, until he fell in love with a student nurse and got married in 1961.