U's oldest professor gives his last lecture – at age 91


John Fraser Hart, the oldest professor at the University of Minnesota and one of the oldest still teaching in the nation, is retiring at the end of this school year.

The Star Tribune published a tribute to the 91-year-old geography teacher, noting the World War II veteran began his teaching career when Harry Truman was president and joined the University of Minnesota "at the dawn of the hippie era" in 1967.

Last year, CNN featured him in a story about some of the nation's oldest workers, calling him "the lifelong professor." The story added that Hart has published 15 books and taught more than 50,000 students during his tenure.

"I've learned a lot and I have a chance to share with students," he told the network. "Each year, I think I keep getting a little bit better at what I'm doing."

In his biography on the webpage for the Department of Geography, Environment and Society, Hart said, "I am just an old-fashioned country geographer who likes to make and use maps. I try to understand what I see as I ramble through rural areas, and I supplement my observations with census data and maps that are based on these data."

The Associated Press notes nearly 40 percent of the university's Twin Cities campus faculty members are 55 or older. Brian Buhr, dean of the university's College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences said employees are working longer hours than ever before and they’re retiring later.

A story highlighting his career published on the university's webpage for the College of Liberal Arts notes Hart's lectures are often accompanied by a slide show, using the thousands of images he has taken in his years of scholarship.

The university ended a policy mandating retirement at age 70 just before Hart’s 70th birthday. But he didn't go soft as he stayed in the classroom. The Star Tribune story said he's "bragged that a third of his students fail his first exam."

Hart was the son of a history professor, raised in Virginia during the Depression. He became a naval intelligence officer on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific in World War II, which inspired his field of study.

“We were part of the fleet that occupied Japan,” he told the newspaper. “I saw a lot of geography, and I was curious about it. I wanted to know more about the places I’d been.”

The U will try to preserve Hart's classroom legacy. Archivists have begun digitizing thousands of his slides, and Hart has been recording some of his lectures in a studio. They may appear online at some point.

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