Dr. George N. Huppert

George N. Huppert Obituary

Dr. George N. Huppert, of La Crosse Wisconsin, died October 14, 2001 in a head-on car crash in the Roosevelt Lakes area near Globe, Arizona. He was on his way to a professional meeting, the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium in Tucson. George was 56 years of age.

George married Betty J. Wheeler, formerly of Franktown, Colorado in 1979. He had previously had two sons, Kendon G. Huppert (deceased) and Steven C. Huppert (now of Brooklyn, New York) with Lorraine Lester (now of Albuquerque, New Mexico).

Dr. George N. Huppert

George’s Professional Life

George was well known by his friends and colleagues as having wide-ranging interests in the sciences, particularly geography and geology. He was a lifelong learner, as evidenced by the six university degrees he completed, including Bachelor’s degrees in both, Geography (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Geology (Winona State University at Winona, Minnesota); Master’s degrees in Geography and Education (both at the University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho); a Master’s degree in Statistics and a Doctor of Arts degree (both at the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley, Colorado). He read two or more newspapers daily, and several hundred books, professional journals, and magazines per year. George was devoted to the study of the earth and nature, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Another trait was his outgoing and friendly demeanor; George was truly interested in people, and he demonstrated this in his daily interactions with whomever he met. He also loved animals and the beauty of nature; and he promoted the protection of animals and their habitats, as well as all natural resources.

George was born in Brooklyn, New York and traveled many parts of the world from a very young age, as his father was in the U. S. Marine Corps and was stationed many places during George’s formative years, including Marine bases in Yokosuka, Japan; Rota, Spain; and many Marine bases around the U.S. While his father was stationed in Spain, George and his brother Frederick spent an entire summer traveling around the Mediterranean Sea, seeing much of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. He was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, and went on his first trip to a cave (“Cueva de la Pileta” which means “Cave of the Sink”) near Ronda, Spain (in 1959 or 1960). George developed a passion for exploring caves, which then became his lifelong interest and area of professional research. George’s cave studies led him around the world to many unique locations. He made his 905th recorded trip into a cave on September 28, 2001 (having recorded his trips only since 1964).

George participated in early hydrological studies at Mammoth Cave National Park in 1975, under the tutelage of the renowned cave geologist, Jim Quinlan. Over the next three decades, George distinguished himself as one of the leading cave management experts in the United States. His intense passion for caves quickly enticed Betty to join him on cave trips, after they met on a field trip to the Grand Canyon in 1976. She rapidly also became interested in caves and karst groundwater problems. Together, they worked on karst and cave research projects and wrote many professional articles. Their personal lives were much enriched by their intertwined professional interests.

George combined the scientific study of caves and his love of traveling with a professional career in geology and geography. In addition, he had natural talents in teaching, so he prepared himself for teaching at the college/university level. After filling several temporary teaching and research positions in Idaho, Colorado, and Tennessee, he joined the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse (UW-L) in 1979. There he became Professor of Geography and Earth Science, a position he retained the rest of his life. He was voted Chair of the Department of Geography and Earth Science twice, and worked tirelessly to promote geographic education at UW-L. He worked with many colleagues across the university on various committees over his 22+ years there.

George believed personal experience to be a powerful educational tool, so he organized and led field trips for students to caves and karst areas (particularly in Wisconsin and Minnesota), and to visit many other areas throughout the U.S., as well as several places in Canada, Mexico, and Russia. He served UW-L and the La Crosse community by leading many trips to local caves for Scout troops and students of all ages. His trips always incorporated a message of the need to protect caves for their intrinsic values as well as the need to protect the groundwater in every karst area, which is a fragile resource that is frequently used for drinking water.

George’s caving included trips to hundreds of caves in many parts of the U.S.; and to caves in Canada, Jamaica, San Salvador Island (Bahamas), Cuba, England, France, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Brazil. He was particularly delighted to visit the “Kras” area of Slovenia, which is the area first to be scientifically described (“type-section”) well over 100 years ago where solutional caves are found, and where groundwater resources are fragile. (This work defined what is now known as a “karst” area.) George was also honored to visit the famous Lascaux Cave in France. This famous cave, with Paleolithic drawings and paintings of animals, is one of 16 sites named together as the “Decorated Grottoes of the Vezere Valley” and is designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. The drawings and paintings in the cave are exceedingly fragile, and therefore visitation is extremely restricted.

George published numerous academic papers and articles for scientific and caving publications. He was one of the early proponents of the Underground Wilderness concept, and dedicated extensive articles to public education about caves and cave management. He volunteered many thousands of hours to the American Cave Conservation Association (ACCA) and the National Speleological Society (NSS). He was one of the first Directors of the ACCA, and served on the ACCA Board of Directors since 1982. He was the ACCA Vice President for Conservation over the past decade. George also served in various capacities in the NSS, such as director of the NSS Cave Management Section; Chairman of the NSS Cave Conservation and Management Section; Social Science/Exploration Editor of GEO2 (a geology/geography publication of the NSS); and Business Manager of the Journal of Caves and Karst Studies (formerly, NSS Bulletin). George was honored as a “Fellow” of the National Speleological Society and as a member of the renowned Explorer’s Club.

George will particularly be remembered by his devoted wife and many relatives, professional colleagues, students, and by nearly everyone he met, for his energy, his enthusiasm for life, and his love of learning. A simple example is that he always requested a window seat on every air flight, and carefully studied the landscape, to identify rivers, mountains, cities, and other features. He loved to share his knowledge with whomever sat next to him. He also captured much of his travels on film, and shared the story of each trip with family and friends. While his loss to the cave conservation community will be deeply felt, so too will he be missed by all of us who knew and loved him well.

Betty Wheeler
NSS News, Volume 60, Number 1
January, 2002
Used with Permission

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