March 30, 2023

In Remembrance: Henry H. “Hank” Woodard Jr., Professor Emeritus of Geology

Henry H. “Hank” Woodard, an influential professor emeritus of geology, died Oct. 31 at 96.

Henry H. Hank Woodard Jr. Henry H. “Hank” Woodard Jr., at left.
Credit: Beloit College Archives
Professor Woodard started teaching at Beloit in 1953 and was lovingly known as “The Chief” by legions of alumni who took his courses and benefitted from his mentorship about many things, not only geology. He was a generous and talented teacher, an avid outdoorsman, a dear friend to many, and a lifelong Beloit College advocate.

Over 40 years of leading geology field trips with students, he regularly out-rowed and out-hiked students less than half his age. He and his wife, Lyn — also a geologist — led these rugged expeditions, which went everywhere from the Boundary Waters of North America to New Zealand and beyond, opening students’ imaginations to careers in geology. Many of his former students are highly placed in the field or teach in colleges and universities, leaving a legacy of generations of geologists.

Woodard earned his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College and his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Chicago. When he joined Beloit’s faculty in the 1950s, he was the college’s sole geology professor. In only a few years, he had rebuilt the department and laid the groundwork for the respected national reputation it deserves today. He was a founding member of the Keck Consortium for Geology in 1988 and served as its director from 1991-1993, making Beloit College the hub of undergraduate geology study.

With the encouragement of colleagues and former students who accompanied Woodard on New England field trips, Woodard wrote a book about his upbringing there. Up-River, Down-River, Out-to-Sea, a collection of non-fiction short stories recounting his life on Rings Island in Massachusetts, was published in 2016.

Among his many honors was the 1987 Neil Miner Award, which he received from the National Association of Geology Teachers for superior teaching in the Earth Sciences. He was Beloit’s Teacher of the Year in 1964 and received honorary Beloit College alumni status in 1988.

Although he retired from full-time teaching in 1992, he remained active in college life nearly until his death. He regularly attended campus lectures and kept track of former students who loved receiving his emails packed with encouragement and exclamation points about their accomplishments. In 2003, a group of Woodard’s former students, led by Skip Davis’59, honored their teacher by establishing the Helen and Henry H. Woodard Jr. Endowed Scholarship Fund, which is awarded to a student majoring in geology.

Members of Beloit’s geology department honored their former colleague and mentor at a November reception held in his namesake Woodard Lab of the Sanger Center for the Sciences. At the time of this writing, an additional gathering was being planned for spring 2023 in conjunction with the annual Woodard Lecture in geology.

Survivors include two sons, Blane and Mark’75.


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