Dr. John Heinrichs, Professor of Geography and Chair of the Geosciences Department at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, died unexpectedly on January 11, 2014, five days before his 57th birthday.
John's early life centered in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he attended De Sales Preparatory Seminary and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. He persevered in his education and after receiving his Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Mathematics, he moved to Denver, Colorado where he worked for several years in the aerospace industry. John soon realized that this environment was restricting his personal and professional fulfillment. He resolved to continue his education, seek further understanding of the world and to use this knowledge and his experiences for the benefit of others.
During this transition he met Cheryl Zeigler and they relocated to Boulder, Colorado and married. John enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder and began his work in Arctic science and climatology, with research in the areas of remote sensing and sea ice. John was awarded his Doctorate of Philosophy in Geography in 1996. While continuing his post-doctoral work, John concluded that his passion was in teaching, and he began to search for the perfect opportunity. This quest brought him to Hays, Kansas, where in 1998 he was offered a position as Assistant Professor at Fort Hays State University. John quickly rose to prominence through his scholarly research, innovative teaching, abundant energy and determination to help his students succeed. Through these efforts, John received early tenure and many honors including the FHSU Pilot Award in 2003 and the FHSU President's Distinguished Scholar Award in 2008. He was also the president of the Faculty Senate and was recognized by his peers for his collaboration and mentoring skills.
John delighted in travel and enjoyed fully experiencing and embracing other cultures. He frequently attended and presented at seminars, workshops and conventions both nationally and internationally, and he developed many students within his own research. In recent years, he took groups of students on camping overnights and backpacking expeditions into such places as the Colorado wilderness, and he traveled with student groups to Ireland and Peru. John's students were always his highest priority.
John was an active member of the Hays community and could always be counted on to present to civic groups, regardless of the topic. He was known for his speaking and promotion of the Science Cafes in Hays. He participated in the Optimist Club, taught many a Boy Scout how to build and launch rockets, participated in Science Week and encouraged children, young and old, to be curious about space science through community rocket launches and sharing his love of astronomy. John had recently trained to be a disaster instructor for the American Red Cross. John was a longstanding member of the Ellis County Wellhead Protection Committee and he also served as Chair.
John's wife Cheryl died in January of 2010, leaving John quite devastated. In reaching out for support, John came to meet Maureen Duffy, another younger widow. Their connection grew quickly and a year after meeting, John and Maureen married. John and Maureen embraced this new opportunity for life and love, and they lived the few short years they had together as fully as possible, traveling widely and sharing their passion for love and life with all who knew them.
John is also survived by his mother, Beverly Heinrichs, his brother Mark Heinrichs and sister-in-law Marilyn Doore, his niece Aqua Heinrichs, Cheryl's sons Christopher Walkup, and Joshua Brown, his wife Jennifer and daughter Kaitlin. John was loved and is greatly missed by Maureen's parents, brother and sisters, their spouses and their children. His father, Eugene Heinrichs and his older brother Frank predeceased John.
John was a popular teacher, a brilliant scholar and an internationally renowned scientist. His enthusiasm and robust quest for knowledge and understanding has profoundly affected countless people throughout the world, but most especially at Fort Hays State University. John's care for others was obvious and this was evident in his ability to listen with undivided attention and without judgment to any story, problem or question brought to him. He was a dynamic and gifted man who achieved much during his all too brief life. John had a tremendous impact on everyone he touched and he still had so much more to give, to teach, to think about and to explore.
Memorial services for John will be at 10:00 am on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at the Robbins Center, located at One Tiger Place, on the campus of Fort Hays State University. Memorials are suggested in John's memory to the Dr. John Heinrichs Memorial Geography Scholarship, in care of the Fort Hays State University Foundation. Condolences may be left for the family at www.haysmemorial.com