Charles Burge ’57: The Pursuit of Higher Education
BY: ABIGAIL HILL
In the fall of 1956, having been out of high school for nearly five years, Charles Burge decided he wanted to attend college. During his time out of school, he had worked with the DuPont Company, had gotten married and served in the military. Ill prepared for college entrance, Burge was turned down by many schools in his attempt to pursue higher education and was looking for an institution that would open the door.
“I had a private conference with Dr. Slaybaugh, along with my wife, and he gave me an opportunity to enroll, despite being ill prepared,” Burge said.
Burge grew up in Christiana, Delaware on what he refers to as “the other side of the tracks.” Although he grew up in poverty, he had a happy family life well sustained by his father, a laborer who only had an 8th grade education. He grew up with two brothers and one sister, none of whom had schooling beyond high school. Burge would be the first of several generations of his family to pursue higher education. He attended Wesley Junior College for one year and never looked back once he started on his path to a college degree.
While at Wesley, Burge received the Balfor Speech Award from Louie Wells and was awarded a sum of money to help him continue his education, which he did -- far beyond the expectations of most. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland in 1959. He then found his true calling with the ministry when he obtained a Master of Divinity in 1962 and a Master of Religious Education in 1964 from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Following 10 years as a pastor in Warwick, Maryland, Magnolia, Delaware and Townsend, Delaware, Burge entered active duty as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. He and his wife moved around a bit as he was stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky; Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Air Defense Command in Niagara Falls, New York and the U.S. Army Chaplain School, where he received another master’s degree from Long Island University. During this time, Burge also served two tours in Vietnam.
Along his journey, Burge encountered various obstacles with his health. In 1968 while still on active duty in the army he found out he was a diabetic, and then almost 20 years later, he suffered a major heart problem followed by coronary bypass surgery. Later in 2004, Burge underwent five angioplasties. All of the procedures were successful.
While continuing his service in the military and despite his medical setbacks, Burge kept on his mission to obtain degrees. After being stationed in Alaska for three years, Burge pursued a doctoral degree in human behavior and leadership from the United States International University in San Diego and completed his dissertation while in Germany. He was selected by the Army Chief of Chaplains to spend a year in residence at Yale-New Haven Hospital in clinical pastoral education, followed by a three-year assignment to the Landstuhl General Hospital in Germany. His last assignment was in 1982 at Fort Drum, on the North Shore of Lake Bonaparte, New York.
Following Burge’s retirement after 26 years of service to the Military in 1984, he and his wife established TriCounty Counseling Services and became contractors with the Veterans Administration to provide readjustment counseling for Vietnam veterans with post- traumatic stress disorder. The couple pursued this line of work for 13 years.
A year ago, he was diagnosed with cancer stemming from a tumor on his bladder, preceding his second encounter with cancer of the colon last February. Both surgeries performed at the cancer center in Buffalo, New York were successful, and were followed up with radiation therapy. Burge was later diagnosed with an incurable cancer of the liver and is still undergoing chemotherapy. Last November, just four short months after the completion of radiation therapy, Burge led a military religious retreat for the protestant and catholic chapel at Ft. Myer in Virginia which he describes as the highlight of his career in the ministry and the field of counseling.
This year marks Burge’s 50th year as an ordained minister and he and his wife will celebrate 55 years of marriage this July. The couple has faithfully supported Wesley College over the years through the Rev. A. Jason Blundon Memorial Scholarship, named for his wife’s brother, which is annually awarded to a worthy Wesley student who plans to enter the United Methodist ministry.
Burge is very grateful to be alive, and to this day he is still thankful to one man in particular, G. Paul Slaybaugh, for giving him an opportunity that seemed impossible. He believes that being given that chance at Wesley motivated him to accomplish tremendous academic feats in education, earning a total of five degrees-- a bachelor’s, three master’s degrees and a PhD. He expressed, “I am forever grateful to Slaybaugh and Wesley for giving me a start in my academic career.”