Former Clintonville student honored
By Bert Lehman
“No matter what you do, you do your best because your work is your signature. If you do things halfway that’s how people will perceive you. You always want to do your best no matter what.”
That was the message Robert Meisel, Ph.D, had for the Clintonville High School graduating Class of 2016 when he spoke at the graduation commencement on May 28.
Meisel was honored with the distinguished Alumnus Honoris award presented by the Clintonville School District. It’s an honor he said he wasn’t expecting.
Growing up in Clintonville, Meisel attended Woodland, a one-room school for eight grades. He said there were three students in his class. One teacher taught all eight grades.
“It was a good place to grow up,” he said.
Woodland closed the year he went to high school.
“We were the last class,” Meisel said. “That was 1960 when it closed. I think a lot of schools closed around that time.”
Because he skipped some grades in grade school, Meisel graduated from high school when he was 16 years old.
“I was probably reading at a fourth grade level when I went to school,” he said. “My sister was like a little tutorial at home, so I was pretty advanced at that point. She just taught me a lot of stuff which I thought was really cool.”
Graduating early, though, Meisel said he didn’t know what to do after graduation.
“When I got done with high school it was like I didn’t have any skills,” Meisel said. “I didn’t farm. I didn’t take industrial agriculture. I was just a general education person. The only option left for me was going to college. I just thought by default it was going to happen.”
He was the first from his family to attend college.
“My brother and sister I am sure could have gone, but back in the 1950s he went into the military and my sister got married and started having kids, which in those days you were successful if you did that,” Meisel said.
His post high school path took him to UW-Whitewater, as well as a six month stint working for a Fortune 500 company in Milwaukee.
“I didn’t even shave yet and I was dictating letters to three different secretaries,” he said. “As I look back, how was that even possible?”
Thinking that getting away from home was a good idea Meisel started attending a college in New Mexico.
“Then my father passed away that summer when I came back after my first year,” he said.
This brought Meisel back home, and he attended UW-Oshkosh.
“I got into a good program and after about four different majors that I declared, I settled on psychology,” Meisel said.
He said he chose to pursue a career in optometry because it was a healing profession and a clean profession.
“People like you and you can help people during most of the visits,” he said.
During his final year at optometry school, Meisel said he wasn’t sure what to do next. This led him to join the Navy.
“That started me on 31 years [in the Navy],” Meisel said. “Some of them were on active duty and then when I got out it was in the Reserves.”
His professional career as an optometrist saw him owning two private practices in the San Diego area, starting in 1981.
Retiring from the Navy in 2013, Meisel continued to operate his two private practices until 2007.
“Two months short of my 60th birthday I got a call one day and this young doctor said, ‘I’d like to know if you are interested in selling your practices,’” Meisel said.
His initial reaction was that he was too young to retire.
“I went home and told my wife and she said, “What are you thinking? Of course you want to talk to him,’” he said.
Within three months he sold both his practices and retired. He added that his career in the Navy helped him to be able to retire at age 60, as his benefits from the Navy started at age 60.
After retirement, Meisel continued to work one day a week for a year, then two days a month for a year, and finally one day a month for a year. Meisel currently spends a lot of time traveling and volunteering.
He regularly donates his time at the Lions Optometric Vision Clinic. He also serves as coordinator of the vision screenings and exams at the K-12 Monarch School for the homeless in downtown San Diego.
His involvement with Lions In Sight has found him helping thousands of needy people in places like Haiti, Peru, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica, Serbia and Mexico.
“It’s rewarding,” Meisel said. “Worldwide vision problems are the most disabling thing we have as a world. A simple thing as a pair of glasses, yet they don’t have the means to do it. It breaks your heart sometimes.”
Meisel and his wife Lois currently reside in Alpine, which is 30 miles east of San Diego. He said he visits Clintonville once a year, as he still has family in Clintonville.