For more than 30 years, Bob Israel traveled around the world crunching numbers for the federal National Center for Health Statistics.
A statistician, he taught health workers and officials in the U.S. and abroad how to analyze and use health information.
At 72, Israel is retired but still traveling. And teaching.
The Fountain Hills resident makes the nearly 50-mile round trip to the Sunnyslope area of Phoenix once a week as part of the Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County. Israel teaches adults oneon-one to read and speak English, study for their general equivalency diploma, and learn math and computer literacy skills.
He still consults some national and international firms, but teaching has become an important part of his life — especially in the past two years with the literacy group.
"I did some teaching assistant work in 1957 when I was at Columbia University School of Public Health (in New York City)," said Israel, who moved to Fountain Hills in 1999. "I enjoyed that a lot."
He later moved to Baltimore and, as part of a job at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, assisted in teaching again.
Israel said those experiences were rewarding, allowing him the opportunity to work with mostly foreign students. He said that he realized he needed to use special tools and techniques to teach statistics to people whose primary language wasn’t English. "I thought I had a talent getting through to these people," he said.
He was able to communicate the subject well enough that his services were sought internationally. He traveled to 50 or 60 countries, including Egypt, Israel, Hungary, Austria, Peru, Mongolia, the former Soviet Union, various places in the Middle East and China to teach health statistics.
Not wanting to slow down in retirement, Israel saw an ad for literacy volunteers and gave it a try. He said there weren’t students close to his home, so he accepted a spot in Sunnyslope.
"This job gives me satisfaction because if you’re a young person who dropped out of school and wants a GED, you have come to realize you made a mistake," Israel said. "They come back to learn and are motivated. It’s a pleasure to have students like that."
Israel said he doesn’t regret his choice to do health statistical work instead of becoming a full-time teacher. He wants to continue with the literacy program as long as he can. "I loved my work," he said. "I never considered myself a professional teacher. I wasn’t trained and I never wanted to be one. It’s just something I enjoy doing."