June 23, 1924 - Dec. 30, 2010
Published in the Buffalo News
January 1, 2011, 12:00 AM
Updated: January 1, 2011, 7:06 AM
Charles H. Ebert, distinguished teaching professor emeritus in geography at the University at Buffalo, died Thursday in the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care, Cheektowaga. He was 86.
Dr. Ebert, who began teaching at the University of Buffalo in 1954, retired in 2000. But the award-winning professor taught as many as four courses a semester after retiring, including his popular and long-running undergraduate course, "Disasters: A Study of Hazards."
The Amherst resident became an expert in the field and wrote a textbook, "Disasters: Violence of Nature and Threats by Man."
In one of his last interviews, Dr. Ebert warned about the widespread damage to the ecosystem and the economy from the exploded oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But he cautioned against feeling hopeless and giving up.
"One duty is to stay informed," he told The Buffalo News in June. "Nothing is more dangerous than an uninformed public." He also urged people to support policies "that smell of some solution."
At the time, he was already preparing to teach "Disasters: An Analysis of Natural and Human- Induced Hazards" in the fall.
He spoke five languages: German, Russian, Spanish, French and English. His field work took him to Switzerland as recently at 1996 to study pollution and the melt rate of a glacier. During his career, he traveled around the world, for field work in Costa Rica, Russia, Poland, Greece, Peru and Afghanistan, among other countries, to study the effects of earthquakes, avalanches, volcanic eruptions, deforestation and soil erosion.
Closer to home, he conducted field research on the spread of toxic leachates at Love Canal, using soil samples and infrared aerial photographs. He once assisted Erie County prosecutors investigating a homicide by correlating ground conditions and weather radar data.
But Dr. Ebert will also be remembered for his teaching. Hundreds of students enrolled in his courses every year. He won the University at Buffalo Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence in 1975 and 1976; UB's Mr. Faculty Award in 1965 and 1968; and the Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Geography Teaching from the National Council for Geographic Education in 1990.
One incident in the 1960s revealed his manner of dealing with students.
"A dozen of what could be called radicals invaded my class, banging on trash cans," he recalled during an interview with The News in 2000.
Instead of calling security, like other professors did, provoking clashes, Ebert asked what he could do for the radicals.
When they said they wanted his students to join their strike, Dr. Ebert said it was up to his students, and put the option to a vote. The students voted to stay in class, and the radicals joined them for Ebert's lecture.
"I was here during the riots, and whether a class got disrupted depended to a large extent on the professor," he recalled. "It was not a matter of the professor being liked or not liked, but how the professor reacted. As some students overreacted, so did some professors."
Dr. Ebert was born in Hamburg, Germany, and attended private schools in Switzerland. He served in the U. S. Army. He earned a doctorate in geography at the University of North Carolina in 1957 after receiving a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in the field from there.
He is survived by a daughter, Monica (Norman E.) Shuman, his grandson Kyle Shuman and two great grandchildren, Hayden and Maddox Shuman. He was the brother of the late Gisela Fleischmann and was the uncle of Esther Fleischmann Griffith.
Comments by Mike Woldenberg
Vince Ebert, a good friend, a superb teacher, and the founder and advocate of the Geography Department at the University at Buffalo has left us with memories of him and his wife, Ilse.
Vince came to UB as a member of the Geology Department in 1954. A few years later, President Furnas asked him to found the Geography Department, and this was done in 1963. As its first Chair, from 1963 to 1970, he built the Department and selected its first faculty members. He was the Undergraduate Dean from 1970 to 1977.
Students will tell you that "Dr. Ebert" was a superb, charismatic professor. He was a fascinating lecturer who taught Physical Geography, Soils (a sequence of 3 courses), Climatology, Oceanography, and Disasters. He once gave regional courses on Europe, the USSR, and Central and South America. He also taught Cartography, the Introduction to Graduate Geography, and a special course in The Art of Teaching. His lectures were illustrated with kodachrome slides from his travels. Up until 1978, Vince recorded research travel to approximately 30 countries; several of these were visited more than once. (We do not have a record of his subsequent trips). It was during his annual trips that he accumulated the very large collection of slides which he used in his courses.
While Vince predominantly taught environmental topics, he projected a concern for the people living in the regions he described and this empathy added to his appeal. His lectures were carefully organized and up to date and illuminated by slides, stories and humor. Last spring and summer, he revised his Disasters course. He had just turned 86 years old in June. He became ill but began teaching the course in the fall of 2010 nevertheless. As he weakened in October, he had to hand over his newly revised notes to Prof. Scott Mackay.
Vince often advised students about their course selections and he influenced many to major in Geography and to go on to careers in this field. Many students commented on his kindness, his humor, and his inspirational lectures. I will give a few comments from students and friends taken from the Guest Book at the Dengler, Roberts, Perna Funeral Home, and found on the web at http://www.legacy.com/guestbook/buffalonews/guestbook.aspx?n=charles-ebert&pid=147522465
"Dr. Ebert's stories of all of his amazing experiences across the globe inspired me to get a degree in Physical Geography. His commitment to educating not just students at UB but people around the world, was rare. It was an honor to be one of his students, and I hope I can be even a fraction of the Professor that he was..." Nicole Gasparini
"...It was an inspiring undergraduate lecture with him that caused me to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies in Geography. My memories are of a vastly knowledgeable, always smiling, thoughtful, kind and wise tutor who took a genuine interest in students. He was always approachable and always patient. He was a real blessing in my life..." C. Mysha Webber-Eakin
"By the end of each semester, Dr. Ebert knew the vast majority of students' names, ...in a lecture hall of almost 300 students. At the end of two of his classes, the students gave him a standing ovation that brought tears to your eyes..." William Priester, Jr.
"I teach Geography at Temple University. I sometimes tell my students about Dr. Ebert's immense slide collection and how I aspire to match its breadth and depth..." Robert Mason.
"Dr. Ebert was simply wonderful. I was a student in the 60s and honored to watch a master at his craft. He motivated me to love learning and helped me to maintain my motivation to graduate..." Sandra Christ
"My wife and I had the absolute pleasure of living across the street from Vince and his beloved Ilse for many years. We will miss his quick wit, intelligence, and wonderful stories..." James and Regina Gallagher
Vince and his wonderful wife Ilse supported the department in many ways. They invited new faculty into their home and these relationships continued over the years. Caroline and I went to Vince's 80th birthday party, and he came to my 70th. Vince and Ilse attended the spring and fall picnics, and the Christmas parties. Ilse brought wonderful meatballs, and Vince often brought his harmonica and entertained. After he had a few beers or some wine he would dance Cossack style. He was able to do this when he was about 60 years old.
Vince and Ilse kept the informal lines of communication open with the university community, Ilse with the UB women's club, and Vince with his peer group in the administration. It was through one of these informal contacts that Vince learned that the University was going to eliminate the Department within days. This was late in 1981. Vince and the Chair (later Dean) Ross Mackinnon saved the Department. Among other things, they pointed out that some members of our faculty were editing three major geography journals at the time.
Vince contributed to the larger Buffalo community, frequently lecturing to organizations, often more than once a month. He also acted as a consultant for local environmental problems. He used false color aerial photography of vegetation to demonstrate the impact of the seepage of pollutants in the Love Canal disaster. He advised politicians that the original rocks lining the Erie Canal Commercial Slip should not be covered up; they should be used in the reconstruction of the Slip, and his advice was taken.
I would like to conclude with the comments by Bill & Patty Wieczorek from the Guest Book:
"Dr. Ebert was my major adviser for my Master's and doctoral degrees in geography, which allowed me to benefit tremendously from his extraordinary breadth of knowledge, but even more from his wisdom...Even more influential was the loving guidance and advice from him and his beloved Ilse to me and Patty throughout the years. Vince's life work was an endless act of love for his community, for his department, for science, for people close to him as well as those who were often forgotten by others, and especially for the world and its intricate systems that he taught us all about. He will forever be an exemplar of an honorable man." Bill & Patty Wieczorek