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The History of the Department of Geology
~Courtesy of Dr. Gene LaBerge, Emeritus~

The geology program at Oshkosh began in 1934, when Burton E. Karges was hired to teach geography at Oshkosh State Teachers College. Karges had just completed his Ph.D. degree at the University of Wisconsin Madison, with his Ph.D. dissertation on the
St. Croix Horst in western Wisconsin. He taught courses in physical geography, geomorphology, physiography, as well as cultural geography. The standard teaching load was 28 contact hours per week, which left little or no time for research projects.

During the 1930's, the college consisted of three buildings, Dempsey Hall, Harrington Hall and Swart campus school. Most classes and the administrative offices were in Dempsey. Most of the sciences were in Harrington, and the “lab wing” that extends out into the current mall was the blacksmith shop. Swart housed the education courses, and served as a school for local children, as well as a practice school for education majors.

Karges was inducted into the Army during World War II, leaving the geology part of the geography program at Oshkosh State Teachers College rather depleted. Karges returned to his teaching duties and, with the growth in college enrollment after the war, Oshkosh and the eight other teachers colleges expanded their offerings and were renamed State Colleges, with the facility at Oshkosh named Oshkosh State College (and Superior, River Falls, Stout, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Whitewater and Platteville). With this expanded offering, departments were established, and the Department of Geography and Geology was formed at Oshkosh. At about 1960, the schools became the Wisconsin State Universities, with increased offerings.

The burgeoning enrollment in the new universities prompted a major building program of dorms and classrooms. At Oshkosh, construction began on a major addition to Halsey Science Center, Clow Social Science was constructed, along with a major remodeling of Harrington Hall (as well as a new library, Reeve Union, dorms and Blackhawk Commons). Classes were held in a number of temporary buildings on campus.

During this period of growth, Dr. Karges hired Donald Lamb to teach Mineralogy, Lithology, and several other courses. Geology remained part of the Geography Department, and was taught in Dempsey Hall. In 1963, the geology faculty was increased to three with the hiring of Dr. T.S. Laudon.

Completion of construction of Halsey Science Center, Clow, and the remodeling of Harrington Hall in 1965 prompted significant hiring in many departments.
Drs. Gene LaBerge and James McKee, and Sally LaBerge were added to the geology faculty, but Donald Lamb was not retained by the University. Dr. Laudon was on a leave of absence in 1965-66 to conduct research in Antarctica. Geology classes were taught in most of the ground floor of Harrington Hall, with geography classes in the upper floors. Geology was granted departmental status in the 1965-66 academic year. The Department Office was in the present Student Lounge, with an 8-foot high partition dividing the room in half. Dr. Karges, the first Chairman, occupied the half toward the windows, and Pam Steuber, the first secretary, in the half toward the hallway. The only telephone in the department was in the Department Office.

Dr. LaBerge taught Physical Geology, Mineralogy, Lithology, Optical and X-ray Mineralogy, Petrology, Mineral Deposits, and Geology of Wisconsin. Dr. McKee taught Physical Geology, Historical Geology, Paleontology, and Stratigraphy. Dr. Karges taught Physical, Historical, Physiography, and served as Chairman. Sally LaBerge taught Physical and Historical labs, Glacial Geology and Field Methods. Dr. Laudon returned to the Department in 1966 and taught Historical Geology, Sedimentology, and Summer Field Camp. Dr. Brian McKnight was hired in 1966 and taught Physical Geology, Glacial Geology, Structure, and Sedimentology. In 1968, Dr. Norris Jones was added to the faculty to teach Physical Geology, Optical and X-ray Mineralogy, and Petrology.

In 1969, Dr. James Hoffman was hired to teach Geochemistry and Physical Geology, and to introduce Environmental Geology, and Dr. Sam Harrison was added to introduce Hydrogeology courses. This initiated a new dimension to the offerings in geology at Oshkosh. Dr. Harrison left Oshkosh in 1971 to take a teaching position at his alma mater in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Geology Department began the search for a replacement, and, in 1972, hired Dr. C.W. Fetter.

The 1971-72 year was a sad year for the Geology Department because Dr. Karges learned that he had terminal cancer. He died on Thanksgiving Day, 1972. His wish had been to teach at Oshkosh for 40 years, but cancer cut short his term in the Department after 38 years. 1972 was also a year of remodeling in Harrington Hall with the Geology Department moving into most of the second and third floors, as well as moving into additional rooms on the ground floor. The flume and wave tank were moved out of the basement into room 112; room 103 was adapted for Environmental Geology lab; room 113 was modified for teaching of Physical Geology labs and room 114 was modified for Historical and Oceanography labs. (Previously, Physical and Historical labs were taught in the same rooms, necessitating a great deal of carrying minerals, rocks, fossils and maps in and out of the rooms). Mineralogy lab was moved from room 115 to room 216 on the second floor. Stratigraphy and Paleontology lab were moved to room 313, and Optical Mineralogy/Petrology lab was established in room 312. Room 302 was converted to a geochemistry lab. Faculty members established offices on all three floors of Harrington, making the building mainly a Geology building. The early 1970's also saw the change in name from Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Dr. Laudon was chosen as the successor to Dr. Karges as Chairman, and he served a term of three years. Laudon was followed by Dr. Hoffman, who served for three years before moving to administration as Associate Dean of Letters and Science. Dr. McKee followed Dr. Hoffman as Chairman, and served a three-year term. Dr Jones followed
Dr. McKee for three years, and was followed in turn by Dr. Fetter, who served for twelve years.

In 1975, Dr. Robert Thorsen was hired to teach Glacial Geology and Physiography, but he left for a job in Alaska several years later. Sally LaBerge was hired to teach Glacial Geology and freshman geology labs, including Physical, Environment and Historical Geology. In 1981, Dr. William Mode was hired to teach Glacial Geology, Environmental Geology and Physiography. Dr. Mode was the last permanent faculty member hired until Dan Lehrmann was hired to replace Dr. McKee in 1996.

Since most of these faculty members were hired over a span of only a few years, they all retired in a short period of time as well. Dr. McKee retired first, in 1996, and
Dr. Fetter also left the Department that year to pursue a career as a hydrogeology consultant. Dr. Laudon retired in 1997, and Dr. LaBerge retired in 1998.
Dr. McKnight retired in 1999 and Dr. Jones in 2000. Thus, with the exception of
Dr. Mode, there was a complete turnover in the faculty at UW Oshkosh in a period of four years.