Late geology professor remembered for always being ‘in the heart of things’

Dr. Gene Ulmer was well-regarded by his students and fellow colleagues.

Throughout his 45 years working in Temple’s Earth and Environmental Sciences department, Dr. Gene Ulmer was considered an integral part of the department by many of his colleagues.

Known for his dedication to students and his work as a scientist, Ulmer’s contributions to aspiring geologists have not gone unappreciated.

Ulmer, 78, and a professor emeritus of geology, died Sept. 18. A memorial service will be held Oct. 3 at the Shelley Funeral Home in Warrington, Pennsylvania. Memorial contributions may be made to the Gene C. Ulmer Undergraduate Student Support Fund.

David Grandstaff, professor of earth and environmental sciences, worked closely with Ulmer for about 25 years on nuclear waste disposal, platinum deposits and mantle conditions. Together they edited numerous scientific journals and traveled to sites of geological interest.

Grandstaff recalled one such time when the two visited Mount St. Helens in Washington soon after its eruption in 1980. An airplane flew them over the mouth of the volcano to bring them as close as possible to their test subject.

“Gene was not frightened at all. He was more enthusiastic about getting close to the volcano and seeing things in action,” he said. “No matter where we went, he was in the heart of things.”

Ulmer was also known for the jewelry sale he organized every December. The sale raised funds for undergraduate geology students’ mandatory field camp trips to places of geological interest.

The sale was held for about 40 years, Grandstaff said. Ulmer made jewelry or bought from vendors to accumulate pieces to sell in the lobby of the Tuttleman Learning Center. Through his efforts, many students’ trips were funded and will continue to be through Ulmer’s fund.

Laura Toran, professor in the Earth and Environmental Sciences department, said Ulmer’s diligence was always impressive.

“Last year, he couldn’t drive, so Dave Grandstaff had to pick him up just so he could come to the jewelry sale,” she said. “Some people, when they retire, they just leave. But he didn’t.”

“Curb service” was another one of Ulmer’s signature ways to assist students. He would read students’ papers and answer their questions no matter what, Grandstaff said.

“One of the notable things about Gene was that if a student handed in a paper, he would stay up literally all night doing what he called ‘curb service,’” Grandstaff said. “He really cared about his students and was willing to go the extra mile.”

“He was known to, at the drop of a hat, change what he was doing to help someone,” Dennis Terry, associate professor of geology, added.

Alyssa Finlay graduated from Temple with a bachelor of science in geology and religion in 2010 and a master’s degree in geology in 2012. She’s currently a doctoral student in marine chemistry and geochemistry at the University of California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In a post on the TU Geology Facebook group, Finlay said she decided to become a geologist over the course of a single weekend after she signed up for a field trip to the Adirondack Mountains. She said the last time she saw Ulmer was when he came to give a lecture to the students on a geology camping trip.

“Even though he drove all that way just to spend a few hours with us … that’s just who Dr. Ulmer was,” Finlay posted on Facebook.

Ulmer organized a field trip for geology students every fall until he retired, Toran said.

“I had no idea he was the force behind it until after he left,” she added.

In his spare time, Ulmer enjoyed fishing on the Delaware River, vacationing in a cabin in the Poconos and traveling on cruises. He had four children and eight grandchildren. He also was an ABBA fan and often played their music “at full blast,” Grandstaff said.

Terry described Ulmer as gracious, easygoing and well-respected. His affinity for telling stories and offering advice led the department to refer to him as “Mother Goose.”

“This place was like his family. He embodied that idea,” he said. “It’s going to be a big hole.”

Lian Parsons can be reached at or on Twitter @Lian_Parsons.

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