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Thursday, October 29, 2009

UNO geography professor dies after 45 years of service

The UNO flag was lowered to half-staff on Oct. 22 to honor the loss of the Department of Geography/Geology's Charles "Chuck" Gildersleeve. However, Gildersleeve's teaching habits will live on in an annual "Know-Your-World" lecture sponsored by one of the many programs he touched.

Gildersleeve, 69, taught human, urban and economic geography courses at UNO. He passed away on Oct. 10 due to complications with jaw surgery.

UNO's International Studies and Programs will sponsor the lecture every fall in honor of Gildersleeve, a founding faculty member of the university's international studies major. He also served as chair of the Department of Geography/Geology from 1981-1988. The lecture will be a part of International Education Week.
Tom Gouttierre, dean of International Studies and Programs, said the first lecture will be on Nov. 16 at noon. Jack Shroder, a professor in the Department of Geography/Geology, will lecture on the geoscience riches of Afghanistan.

Gouttierre made this announcement at Gildersleeve's memorial service on Oct. 22 at the Thompson Alumni Center.

He said Gildersleeve's annual guest lecture on demography for an international studies introductory course impacted several students.

"So many of them would remind me of how they thought he was such a kindly person in helping them feel at home," Gouttierre said. "He always had such an impact on students and there are numbers of them who have referred to having seen him just in that one lecture and how much that meant to them even then."

The Student Senate passed a letter of condolence on Oct. 22, supporting the inauguration of the "Know-Your-World" lecture. The letter also acknowledged Gildersleeve's 45-year contribution to the university since 1964.

"Dr. Gildersleeve demonstrated his love for his subject and his commitment to geographical education at all levels by being a founding member of the Geography Educators of Nebraska (1987-2007) and frequently interacting with secondary educators to improve their instruction," according to the resolution. "Dr. Gildersleeve was completely devoted to students as the center of the academic enterprise, winning several teaching awards and often mentioned by students as the most influential instructor in their academic careers."

Gildersleeve was responsible for coordinating the National Geographic Bee (1988-2007) under the National Geographic Society. He also served on the Omaha Planning Board from 1980-1985.

UNO Chancellor John Christensen, who opened the service, said Gildersleeve was an inspiration to the whole university.

"He's an example of long-serving, inspired, dedicated service to this institution, which has brought UNO to its rightful place in American higher education," Christensen said. "While we shall miss him, we can take solace in knowing he left a wonderful legacy by which to remember him."

After meeting Gildersleeve in the 1980s, Christensen advised his three sons to take a course "the Gildersleeve way."

"Study didn't make any difference, take a Gildersleeve course and they did," Christensen said. "Each thanked me for the recommendation and all characterized it as one of the best classroom experiences they had ever had, albeit, the worst collection of stories they had ever heard."

Pat Gildersleeve, his wife, said her husband always enjoyed a good laugh throughout their 50-year marriage, just as much as he loved teaching.

"Chuck always enjoyed hearing a good joke and in turn, he could tell a good joke right back," she said. "Chuck has always been a kind and upbeat person."

Gildersleeve motivated students to participate in campus-related events, especially UNO athletics. He also inspired students to get their money's worth in the classroom.

UNO student Andrea Souchek recalls Gildersleeve busting out some moves when a cell phone would ring in his class.

Souchek said she misses his friendly smile and his motivating presence.

"He would talk up the world, tell you random and savory details and stories and connect things that you would never think twice about," Souchek said. "Then it was as if he would hand you the keys to the world and tell you, 'Now go do something with it.' He made you want to reach out to the world, he made sure you treasure the little things in life and always made you laugh."

Gildersleeve's everlasting presence on students also motivated his colleagues.

Michael Peterson, a UNO geography professor, said Gildersleeve was "a fountain of optimism."

"As the most senior geographer in the department, he set the tone for how professors interact with students," Peterson said.

He said Gildersleeve's ability to remember names was one of his most defining characteristics.

"He taught classes with up to 120 students, and while it took him weeks, he would remember the names of everyone," Peterson said. "He was always interested in their progress and many students would rely on him for advice and support."

Other professionals from Nebraska also gathered at the memorial to share their experiences with family, friends and loved ones.

Harris Payne, social science curriculum supervisor of Omaha Public Schools, recalled Gildersleeve's many impersonations of Donald Duck and references to his hometown of Zearing, Iowa.

Zearing was known to Gildersleeve's students and colleagues as "Cupcake Corners."

Payne also quizzed memorial attendees on the three books Gildersleeve said college students must have: a dictionary, a thesaurus and an atlas.

Randy Bertolas, a geography professor at Wayne State, said Gildersleeve always provided students, even those at Wayne, with a kindred education in geography.

"You always got the feeling you've known Chuck your whole life, even if you've just been introduced to him," Bertolas said. "Because Chuck made an impression, he made an impact, he made a difference in the lives of so many people. Chuck just stuck with everyone he met."
(Photo courtesy: Michael Peterson/UNO Department of Geography/Geology)

1 comment:

  1. I had Dr. Gildersleeve for Human Geography a few semesters ago and I can honestly say that he inspired me to become a geography minor. He was a wealth of knowledge and I took away so much from his course. I remember him referring to UNO as McDonald's Univeristy, because like a typical commuter campus, students would come to school, go to class, then leave. He always made an effort to get students to attend UNO sporting events and become an well-rounded entity on campus. I remember he would always keep us in class until the final minute, just so we would get our money's worth. I remember when students would even come in late. He would distract them as they were hurrying to find a seat, since they interrupted the class. He did it all in good, serious fun, though. He had a joke for everything and I mean everything. Somehow, most of the jokes he blurted out in class always tied right back into geography.