GeoInspirations: Robert Saveland - Geography Educator, War Hero, Lifelong Learner
Editor’s note: Thank you for joining us for this edition of GeoInspirations. Today Dr. Joseph Kerski introduces us to another of geography's most inspiring and energetic leaders, Dr. Robert Saveland.
I first met Dr. Robert Saveland when he won the George J. Miller award at the National Conference on Geography Education in 2012. He holds a doctoral degree in education from Teachers College Columbia University and has been a tireless supporter, encourager and trailblazer in geography education for over 70 years. Yes, 70. Dr. Saveland began his teaching career as a seventh- and tenth-grade geography teacher in the junior/senior high school in Kirkwood, Missouri following World War II. From neighboring Kirkwood, he worked with the St. Louis public schools, teaching geography each morning at Harris Teachers College and evaluating elementary schools later in the day. This was the time of school integration and the start of the school system’s FM radio station. From St Louis he was recruited by Ginn & Company to move to Boston to publish a new series of textbooks. Fourteen years later, in 1968, with the successful publication and sales of the series, he joined the University of Georgia as a professor in the College of Education as well as being a member in the newly-formed Institute of Ecology. He formally retired in 1985 but has remained active in the field.
Isn’t it amazing how a good teacher can have such a big influence on us? Dr. Saveland was crystal clear in remembering one whom he says was the single most influential factor in his becoming a geographer: “Miss Hyland, my geography teacher in Grade 7 at Harding Junior High School in Lakewood, Ohio.” He also remembered a specific book: Allyn & Bacon’s geography book, Our World Today. “I kept that book for years,” said Dr. Saveland. Dr. Pond, his high school principal in Kirkwood, Missouri, was another influence that encouraged him to pursue university education. Once there, he found a mentor that would significantly influence his career.
“Professor George Renner, another recipient of the NCGE’s George J. Miller award, was an inspirational influence, mentor, and major advisor at Teachers College Columbia University. Renner wrote a book entitled Human Geography in the Air Age, which was widely read. The public was beginning to learn about great circle routes.”
Dr. Saveland has since contributed to several books as well, citing one in particular as that project of which he is most proud:“The textbook series Lands and Peoples of the World. I was editor in charge of this series with Ginn Publishers. I also worked with Delia Goetz, children’s book author, on her book entitled At Home Around the World, aimed at fourth grade students. I also brought out a book called Eurasia, for Grade 7, at a time when the concept of teaching about Europe and Asia together was considered quite new.” You will also find his contributions in Teaching Social Studies: Handbook of Trends, Issues, and Implications for the Future.
I got the impression that Dr. Saveland is proud of his military service as well. He was the Communications Officer aboard USS LST 533 during the Normandy Invasion of World War II, and received the highest medal of honor from the French government. To this day, he advocates one year of mandatory military service for young people. He is keen on respecting order, standards, and his fellow human beings; he is also a man of insatiable curiosity.
“Never stop asking questions and exploring....We need to know more about what is beyond the farthest star,” he told me. "We need to understand the world’s resources, population growth and migration," he urged. “Read, write, and communicate. Ecology and geography are rooted in the natural environment, but geography also has special concerns for interconnections."
For those new to the field, he advises: "Go sit at the feet of the great.” For Dr. Saveland, that means spending time with visionary leaders in geography. One of the people he liked to “sit at the feet of" was Dr. Womack at the University of Maine. Dr. Saveland also believes that people need a sideline hobby or interest to “keep the mind creative.” For him, it was sailing. Over the course of his lifetime, he has owned 22 sailboats.
As we spoke, I was impressed by the fact that Dr. Saveland finished his master’s degree in 10 months, completed his duties in the U.S. Navy at the conclusion of World War II and got married, all during 1945-1946. At the time, he was on the G.I. Bill, earning just $250 per month; the rent in New York City was $225. Bob and his wife “counted every penny” – even the three cents they spent on the newspaper!
I remain very impressed by the fact that Dr. Saveland has remained so active, even long after retirement, not just in travel and sailing, but in the NCGE. He rarely misses an NCGE conference and has kept up memberships in the American Association of Geographers and the International Geographical Union, as well. He is one of the few people who have been an NCGE member for over 60 years. Besides the scores of students, faculty and applied geographers that Dr. Saveland has influenced, he also had an influence on his son’s career: James Saveland became a leader in wildfire management.
Dr. Saveland told me that he was two months premature at birth because his mother slipped on an icy sidewalk in Cleveland, Ohio. As he put it, he "hit the ground running and has been running ever since.” Indeed, Dr. Saveland! You have lived up to your namesake, “save land” by inspiring all of us to care for the land and its people.