First impressions are lasting. I first met John in 1949 at his interview lecture in 101 Burton Hall. His topic was from his thesis -–The Prairie Peninsula. It was pure Borchert..
First, he convinced you there was a question, a problem here.
Secondly, that geography mattered in the answer.
The last time I saw him was with Jane in St. Croix Falls at lunch, with Barbara, in February. He was still the same old Borchert. We talked about geography, about teaching – and what was wrong with the profession and the university. In other words, it was a faculty meeting of four. And Geography still mattered.
John’s thesis: "The Climate of the Central North American Grassland" was published in the Annals in Vol. 40 (1950) 1-39. For the next two decades he climbed the ladder of academic teaching and research and community service and outreach. How do you do this?
It’s tough enough being an academic paragon – because that’s what he was – the record is there. But also being an involved citizen – an activist in the broader civic and political world of local community and legislative service – the record is there.
John Borchert was luminous – he gave off light – he was a participant and though the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs he made this institution a comuniversity – the intended nature of a land-grant institution.
I said – two decades – that only takes us to 1970. Why stop here? By 1970 he was President of the Association of American Geographers. In his presidential address he summed up what he thought he was about- and what geography his profession should be about. He did by returning to his PhD thesis - "the Dust Bowl in the 1970s" in the 1971 Annals. Let me quote:
This 1970 articulation – midpoint in his career – geography as specific regional interaction between physical and human circulation systems – is exactly what Borchert practiced in his fifty scholarly years at Minnesota.
There is no geography without the study of this changing, moving, interaction between human settlement and social policy and the regional environmental resources. That is why it is so difficult to characterise John Borchert as some kind of special geographer. To be a geographer was to be involved in all aspects of your environs – that was John Borchert.