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Professor remembered for love of the earth

4/23/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

John Heinrichs was fascinated with mother Earth.

On Tuesday -- celebrated as Earth Day -- a flowering pear tree in front of Tomanek Hall on the Fort Hays State University campus was dedicated in Heinrichs' honor.

Heinrichs, chairman of the geosciences department at FHSU, died unexpectedly in January, five days before his 57th birthday.

"He was just fascinated with the Earth itself. He wanted to share that with anybody," said Maureen Duffy, who was married to Heinrichs for almost three years.

Duffy said she was moved by members of the FHSU community wanting to remember her husband in this way.

"I'm pretty touched, because I know John made such an impact on so many people," Duffy said. "It's dear to my heart they wanted to remember him through things like this."

Heinrichs and Duffy, who each lost a spouse, met in an Internet support group for younger people who lost a spouse. Even though their time together was short, they traveled the world, seeing its wonders. Duffy said they made trips to the glaciers in the Arctic; the Alps and Andes Mountains; Hawaii and Alaska.

Heinrichs not only traveled the world, he made it his life's work. He was a climatologist and studied declining sea ice and the effects of climate change.

"He knew that teaching and impacting other lives would make a bigger impact than he could, personally," Duffy said. "It was important for him to be able to do that."

Heinrichs had an effect on Goodland freshman Carly McCracken, who gave a speech at Tuesday's dedication. McCracken always will remember the first time she laid eyes on Heinrichs when he taught a class.

"The first day he walked into class, I literally thought he was Santa Claus," McCracken said. "He had white hair, white moustache, red, jolly face. ... He loves the cold."

McCracken said she still misses Heinrichs.

"He was an amazing professor, and he was a great presence on this campus," she said. "It's so weird to walk into a classroom and not have him there."