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Retired Pharmacist and Vietnam Veteran Furthers Education with UW Health and Wellness Management Degree

Kaitlynn Martin April 9, 2019

At what he calls the “young age of 75,” Herschel A. Ryales has returned to school to better his health and the health of his neighbors. As a student in the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management online degree program, he admits that a lot has changed since his 1960s undergraduate college days.

In 1967, about a year after graduating from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, Herschel was drafted and stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois. Throughout his four years of service, he worked side by side with a dermatologist creating various remedies for soldiers returning from the Vietnam War who suffered from skin injuries and rashes.

“We tried all types of new prescriptions, and they worked!” Herschel said. “Most of the soldiers had good medical and therapeutic outcomes from our extemporaneous prescription compound. That was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”

Now retired from his Department of Veterans Affairs civil service role, and with several decades of experience as a registered pharmacist, Herschel is not one to stay still.

“I’ve been out of school for 51 years,” Herschel said. “One of the reasons I’m moving forward in this degree program is because I just want to stay active and ward off any kind of dementia or other ailments that come with age.”

Ald. Jack Rose poses with UW Health and Wellness Management student, Herschel A. Ryales as he received the Kenosha Hometown Hero award in 2017.
Ald. Jack Rose (left) and Herschel A. Ryales (right) in 2017 when Herschel received the Kenosha Hometown Hero award for his volunteer work in the community.
Source: Kenosha News

Herschel’s activity in his community is hard to miss. He is on the board of directors for the Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services, conducts quality assurance for Kenosha County Aging and Disability Resource Center, and has served six years as a chairman for Kenosha’s Commission on Aging and Disability. Additionally, Herschel was formerly involved with the local VA’s Managing Overweight and/or Obesity for Veterans Everywhere (MOVE!) program, and does other volunteer work under the Older Americans Act Title 45 Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

“Health and wellness became more of a passion as I got older when I realized that I would be facing health challenges,” Herschel said. “I’m not only volunteering for others, I’m essentially volunteering for myself.”

With an obvious passion for the well-being of older friends and neighbors in the Kenosha community, paired with his professional career in the pharmaceutical industry, Herschel saw the UW Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management online degree program as a clear path to learn and grow his contributions to the aging community.

Applying Coursework to the Community

Herschel first learned about the UW Health and Wellness Management online degree program while attending the UW-Parkside Aging Well Conference, which he goes to every year. In June 2019, Herschel will serve as part of the Aging Well Conference keynote panel.

While attending a previous conference, he talked with Penny Lyter, a UW Health and Wellness Management program faculty member and an associate professor at UW-Parkside, where she recently served as associate dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences.

Familiar with UW-Parkside from completing a Spanish course there, Herschel decided to pursue the online master’s degree and chose UW-Parkside as his home campus.

“This program takes me into an entirely new direction, because when I was an undergraduate we had chalkboards and classrooms with professors who kept you in line with what you needed to do,” Herschel said. “All of this has been a new adventure to be involved in a different type of learning through an online platform.”

From Skype video sessions with classmates to using the computer room at UW-Parkside to complete course assignments, Herschel has found the online degree format to be both challenging and rewarding compared to his previous collegiate experience.

The HWM 720: Exercise and Nutrition in Health and Disease class was very personal to me. It was one of the most influential courses I’ve taken that directly impacts what I can bring back to my volunteer work. —Herschel A. Ryales

Currently in HWM 705: Strategic Management for Wellness Managers, Herschel is tasked to consider management concepts that create effective strategies for employers and organizations. One of the course projects involves evaluating a company’s wellness strategies and interviewing CEOs and/or leaders at various businesses about the topic.

“I sent a memo to the CEO and two other directors of Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago requesting an interview,” Herschel said. “It is a pharmaceutical company responsible for immune response and virology products. I don’t know what’s going to come out of that or what they are going to give me, but I’ve known about that company for years, and I think it will be interesting to have a chance to connect with them.”

Other courses, including HWM 720: Exercise and Nutrition in Health and Disease, have connected seamlessly with Herschel’s commitment to educate and assist fellow seniors in Kenosha. In fact, Herschel drew from his experience with the Kenosha Area Family & Aging Services as a model for the course reflection paper.

“The HWM 720 class was really personal to me,” Herschel said. “It focused on exercise and we discovered nutritional foods and calorie counting along with all types of diets that can help mitigate the disease process. It was one of the most influential courses I’ve taken that directly impacts what I can bring back to my volunteer work.”

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Looking Ahead to a Healthy Future for All

Herschel isn’t hesitant to say that working toward his master’s degree through an online program is far from a walk in the park. Being the oldest student in his program comes with its challenges, but his drive to keep learning always moves him forward.

“I don’t want to be a quitter,” Herschel said when asked what motivates him. “I’m taking my time with the courses, and I’m determined to endure to completion.”

For prospective students—whatever their age—Herschel offers some no-nonsense advice: “You aren’t going to have anyone pushing you to complete an assignment or to finish a reading, so you should pursue this with dedication and confidence, because you will encounter a lot of independence.”

While the UW Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management online degree program certainly challenges students to flex their autonomous muscles, Herschel also notes that he has not been alone through this process. In fact, he has connected with fellow classmates via the Student Resource Lounge, Skype video meetings, and even met up with a local student for a study session. Other support, such as Success Coaches are available to help field any program questions at every part of the online educational journey.

Looking ahead, Herschel is excited to keep learning and connecting with members of his community with the best practices, experiences, and knowledge he continues to gain from his time in the program.

“Health and wellness education and guidance, especially at a local scale, is an amazing thing to offer to people in the aging population,” Herschel said. “I want to know what to expect as I get older, and I know many other people who feel the same. Through this program, I can be involved in my own health and help others as well.”

What’s Next?

Interested in promoting better health and wellness initiatives in your community? Discover how the UW Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management online degree program can expand your skills and knowledge in areas such as contemporary health, wellness perspectives, health systems, and emerging issues in wellness.

Talk with a friendly, knowledgeable enrollment adviser today by calling 608-800-6762 or emailing

UW Health and Wellness Management is a collaboration of UW System campuses. Herschel is earning his degree from UW-Parkside.

Programs: Health and Wellness Management