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He's Taking a Detour to Retirement

In his 70s, Gene Sander changes gears to head the University of Arizona

He agreed, for now, to stay until they find a 21st president to follow in the footsteps of Shelton, who resigned at 62 to try to restore the reputation of college football's Fiesta Bowl after several scandals.

Sander keeps fit by rising at 5 a.m. for a 45-minute walk in the desert foothills. He's in the office by 7:30 a.m., out by 7 p.m. One weekend, after spending two days in Flagstaff on business, he returned to Tucson on Friday, attended openings for two residence halls on Saturday at 9 a.m., greeted parents at Family Weekend, schmoozed at tailgate parties and watched the evening football game with dozens of visitors in the president's skybox.

Sunday afternoons are his own, working on a 1949 Ford he's been repairing for years.

From farm boy to president

Born in Fargo, N.D., Sander grew up mowing lawns in Dodge Center, Minn., a town of 1,000. In high school, he was the $15-a-month janitor at the Congregational church and made all-state in football. His summer job on the family farm paid $4 a day. He went to the University of Minnesota, where he received a bachelor's in animal science, then earned two degrees at Cornell, including a Ph.D. in biochemistry. At the University of Florida College of Medicine, he was associate chairman of biochemistry and molecular biology, and was chairman of biochemistry at West Virginia University Medical Center. At Texas A&M, Sander was head of biochemistry and biophysics and deputy chancellor.

In 1987, he arrived at Arizona as dean of the traditional College of Agriculture, charged with giving it a focus on research. He renamed it the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and created 17 endowed chairs and three Regents' professors.

Around the campus, students seem to think the president's age is no big deal. Neither does Sander.

"When they ask me how old I am, I say I'm old enough to know better, and young enough to do the job."

Also of interest: Interview with Carol Ross Joynt on reinventing a life. >>

Ford N. Burkhart, a retired New York Times editor, lives in Tucson, Ariz.

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