Friday, September 14, 2012

Allen F. Agnew, former South Dakota State Geologist

Allen F. Agnew, age 94, of Corvallis, OR passed away on September 12, 2012 of causes related to age and cancer.  He was in the company of his two daughters and one son, attended to by his wonderful family of caregivers at Regency Park Place Assisted Living, and helped most recently Nurse Danise and Aide Mary of Benton Hospice Services.

Allen was born in Ogden, IL, on August 24, 1918, to that town’s doctor and his wife.  He was the second of six children.  As a teenager, he and his younger brother Don ran a trap line in the cold winters of the early 1930’s.  They sold the hides they gleaned from that enterprise to a firm in Chicago, and all transportation of the hides was done by rail.

Allen was Ogden High School Valedictorian and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1940 with highest geologic honors.  His Bachelor’s and Master’s theses at Illinois in micropaleontology were published in professional journals.  He also played semi-pro baseball, his favorite sport.

On September 5, 1946, he married Frances M. Keiffer in Cleveland, OH.  He first met Frances while visiting the home of his AKL fraternity brother, Ray Keiffer, whose family lived in Cleveland.  Allen and Frances moved to Palo Alto, CA where he continued working toward his Ph.D. (received in 1949).  Allen and Frances began their early married life sleeping on U.S. Army cots in Death Valley, Calif., as he performed geologic mapping of that area for the USGS.

The family grew with the addition of four children while they lived in various places: Alabama (United States Geological Survey), Wisconsin (USGS), South Dakota (State Geologist and Professor of Geology at the University of South Dakota), Indiana (Director of Water Resources Research Center at Indiana University), and finally to Pullman, WA (Director of Water Resources Center at Washington State University). After the children left home, Allen and Frances moved from Pullman to Washington, DC, where he spent 8 years as the Senior Specialist in Mining and Minerals at the Library of Congress before retiring to Corvallis in 1982 to be close to their children's families.  He taught part-time at Oregon State University starting in 1983, finally retiring from teaching for good in 1988 at age 70.

Allen maintained memberships in many professional organizations and groups and he played active roles in them for much of his career.  As he was a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity in college, he aided them by becoming a Chapter Advisor at the local AKL chapter at Oregon State University in Corvallis.  He and Frances traveled to yearly AASG meetings in their retirement, renewing friendships made over his years as a geologist and teacher.  The family were avid church-goers, and he was actively involved in any church they attended over the years.  He and Frances finally were able to enjoy a wonderful ten years as ‘snow birds’, spending a month or two each winter in Arizona, where they hosted friends and family and Allen led day-trips to local geologic and historical sites.

Allen is survived by daughters, Leslie (Jon) Seitz of Corvallis and Heather (Keith) Van Dyne of Vancouver, WA; two sons, Larry (Ginny) of Donald, OR and Allen (Erika) of Vancouver, WA; and 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.  He is also survived by his sisters, Mrs. Marion Wagner of Illinois and Mrs. Harriet Moir of Florida, along with numerous nieces and nephews and their families scattered across the United States.

Allen was preceded in death by his favorite (and only) wife Frances, who passed away on October 26, 2010 after sixty-four years together; his parents, Dr. T. Lee Agnew and Agnes (Faris) Agnew of Ogden, Illinois; brother Ted of Oklahoma; brother John of Massachusetts; and brother Don of Virginia.

Allen and Frances sang in many different churches and Frances sang as a soprano professionally.  One of the family's favorite songs that Mom sang, we felt sung especially for and directly to Dad, was "When I Have Sung My Songs", music and lyrics by Ernest Charles.  She sang to Dad:

"When I have sung my songs to you, I'll sing no more.
T'would be a sacrilege to sing at another door.
We've worked so hard to hold our dreams, just you and I.
I could not share them all again, I'd rather die.
With just the thought that I had loved so well, so true,
That I could never sing again,
That I could never sing again, except to you."

We believe that Dad and Mom may be singing duets once again.  In his last few days, Allen listened to a recording of Frances singing this song in 1961 as a Christmas assortment to be presented to Allen and Frances's parents.
Inurnment will be at Oaklawn Memorial Park in Corvallis.  A private gathering to celebrate his life will be held at a future date.  Services provided by McHenry Funeral Home, Corvallis.


Vince Matthews said...

About one month after I arrived at the University of Northern Colorado to begin my teaching career in 1971, John came up to Greeley to give a talk. He illustrated the projects that the Colorado Geological Survey was doing in understanding Colorado's plethora of geologic hazards, and I became an instant fan of him and the survey. Through the decades, we kept in touch and I always enjoyed visiting with him whenever we crossed paths, never imagining that I would one day have the privilege of sitting at his desk. He occasionally asked me to write a letter of support for the survey, which I enthusiastically did.

His legacy with CGS is immense. He fought huge battles on land use, the Marble Ski Area in the early 70s being one of the biggest. John and his right-hand man for a quarter of a century, Pat Rogers, had mapped large landslides in the Mancos shale where the lodge and lift towers were located. They had also mapped debris flow paths where condos were staked to be built. This became an extremely hot topic with lots of press coverage and accusations and threats leveled at CGS. It could have been the death knell for the newly-established agency. EXCEPT, that during the debates, a debris flow came right down one of the mapped paths, depositing a four-foot-thick layer of mud and boulders where the stakes for the not-yet built condos were located. The never-completed Marble Ski area still has abandoned towers and lodge that are warnings to all-- that Colorado's natural hazards should not be ignored. Indeed, a recent debris flow came roaring through town as another reminder.

John was relentless in spreading the word throughout Colorado about the need to pay attention to geological hazards. He would show me how an angry developer would pound on his desk saying that he would have John's job. John would then hand him the phone and the governor's phone number. I have never experienced that in my eight-year tenure as director. And, I credit the lack of threats to the high degree of credibility for the land use work of CGS that was initially established during John's 23 years of working with Colorado's geological hazards. In the mid 80s, John offered a home to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center which remains with CGS today and is the premier avalanche center in the world.

John's background in the energy industry gave him the insights to begin evaluating the potential for developing coalbed methane and geothermal energy in Colorado during the 1970s. Today, several geothermal projects are active in various parts of Colorado with participation by CGS. The tens of publications on coalbed methane in the 70s and 80s helped much of the industry get up to speed on the potential after word of Amoco's success began leaking out. Today, Colorado has the nation's largest reserves of coalbed methane and they provide billions of dollars annually to Colorado's economy and millions to its tax base.

John was extremely interested in the geology of Colorado. One of his first acts as State Geologist was to commission the writing of a general summary of Colorado's geology called, "Prairie, Peak, and Plateau', which sold about 35,000 copies over the years. In the 1950s, John co-founded a small study group that still meets monthly to discuss geology. That small group currently includes at least four past-presidents of AAPG, as well as a current candidate for President-Elect.

You couldn't talk to John for very long without him bringing up his membership in the Old Goats. It is hard to think of John without picturing a guy with twinkling eyes under a cowboy hat, framed by a bolo tie and vest with a smoldering pipe hanging out of his mouth.

Tomorrow morning, some of us will gather to say goodbye and to remember a life of public service. Colorado is better off today as a result of John Rold's contributions to the safety and economic well being of its citizens.

Vince Matthews, State Geologist, Director of the Colorado Geological Survey

James Cobb said...

Two state geologists that I remember so well from the time when I first became acquainted with AASG were John Rold and Allen Agnew. There could not have been nicer, more helpful, more encouraging people. Allen being from my home state of Illinois was actually in the same fraternity at the U of I as my uncle and father who he knew very well. During the preparations for the history volume Allen took great interest. His son help to prepare manuscript pages that he could read and he would give me feedback.

Both John and Allen greatly enriched AASG and our profession. They set great examples for us and contributed a great deal to our worthy endeavors.

James C. Cobb
Director and State Geologist
Kentucky Geological Survey

Anonymous said...

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