In Memory of Jack Mrowka

Jack

Professor Jack Mrowka passed away sometime during the night of July 5th or early in the morning of July 6th of 2002 due to a heart attack.  He was 58.  Jack's death took place while he was attending the ESRI User Conference in San Diego.  He had been looking forward to attending the conference for some time.  Jack apparently checked in to his hotel on the 5th and passed away during the night. 

     We all remember Jack as an addicted slide taker, an enthusiastic teacher, an unfailingly helpful advisor, and an energetic supporter of geography all its forms.  His passing leaves a huge gap in our lives. 

     This page is constructed with the help of Jack's friends, colleagues and students, who share their remembrances and photos of Jack with us.  If you would like to contribute to this page, please send written remarks or photos to gervais@csus.edu.    


   

Family Remembrances

Contributors:



 
 

Elisabeth and I were shocked and dismayed to hear of Jack Mrowka's untimely passing. We knew him for over 30 years, from his first academic position at Chicago, when he was still writing on his dissertation. In fact we first heard the sad news by phone from Dave Helgren, who was a student at Chicago in the early 70s, and Dave was clearly shaken. The idea of sliding away by yourself in a motel room is as unnerving as the sudden death of someone so vital.Jack

     We had kept in touch periodically during those unhappy middle years of Jack in Oregon and later in CA--experiences that would have broken a lesser man. But Jack always tried to put the best face on everything, and soldiered on, buoyed by his religious faith.

     Fortunately we crossed paths again when he participated on our week-long CLAG fieldtrip in northern Mexico during January 2000.  He displayed a phenomenally sharp field eye in geomorphology, and a mastery of processual analysis and interpretation. He bounded up the slopes or crawled down the gullies and sinkholes with an infectious enthusiasm. At the last dinner we sat together and he told me that he had joined the trip to be with me, closing a circle as it were.

     In June of 2000 he again participated in the Spanish CLAG fieldtrip that Elisabeth and I had organized, focusing on "our" village (Ain) in the sierra north of Valencia. He was the only participant who climbed up to the castle, that I had excavated in 1985. Afterwards, although exhausted, he was his jolly self at the meal prepared for the group by the good vecinos of Ain -- telling self-deprecating jokes about how he couldn't imbibe. It was the last time we saw him.

     We are all poorer in his passing. He was a fine scientist of great acuity, who devoted most of his energy to inspired teaching rather than publication. He travelled widely and saw much of the world, all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, imparting his enthusiasm for geography to his students, on whom I am confident that he left his mark.

     We never had the opportunity to meet his wife Kathy, who evidently nurtured his most productive years, at Sacramento State. She supported him, as he explained, in a way that gave him a new lease on a life worth living. She was his secure harbor, and both Elisabeth and I are grateful for this.

     Jack was a friend, a kind and good man, a very special person. He was a role model.

Karl Butzer 
University of Texas


I was most distressed to receive news of Jack Mrowka's untimely death.I know your department will miss him, but so too will the discipline of geography and his many friends scattered across the world. During my term as AAG VP, President and Past President, I came to know Jack very well. He was a person with well articulated ideals, a person of conviction, and a person of great sensitivity.

Jack     When performing my AAG duties, I always knew I could count on Jack's objective assessment of discussions, for the clearly had the well-being of geography at heart. On a personal basis, he was always the first to offer assistance to guide me around an obstacle cluttered room. He often sat near me at the Council table and whispered summaries of what others were displaying on slides, in tables, or on computer screens.

     I will always bear in mind an image of Jack Mrowka - an image of a quiet, self-effacing but quite determined guy, who epitomized how a business acquaintance can quickly turn into a strong tie of friendship and respect.

     I join many others in commiserating the loss of Jack Mrowka. Not only you and I but also the discipline of geography, will sadly miss his presence.

Reginald Golledge 
UC Santa Barbara


There are many adjectives that would describe Jack based on my experiences with him as a student. Some have to do with his physical actions and others portrait his nature and personality. The bottom line really is that he cared deeply about his students and was one of the most enthusiastic instructors I have ever known.

     Physically, a word to describe Jack would be that he was fast. He walked fast and talked fast, perhaps dueJack to the large quantities of Pepsi he drank each day. He had a quick sense of humor and could laugh at himself as easily as at any funny story. Jack would also drive fast, several times on field trips he drove us around on curvy mountain roads, pointing out the window with his left hand and talking on the radio with his right, leaving the piloting of the van to his knee or perhaps to chance. You never felt slighted if you did not travel in the van he drove, he was always right there with all of us via the radio. When he wasn’t talking on the radio or pointing out the window, he was telling us stories about himself, other teaching assignments he had had and about his family of whom he was immensely proud.

     Besides being physically speedy, Jack was immensely enthusiastic about his students and his subject matter as well as about the Geography Department at CSUS. He always welcomed student queries and took great pains to answer each and every one as accurately as possible. He had extensive knowledge within the discipline of geography and if he didn’t know the answer he would gladly look it up for you. From all accounts his letters of recommendation that he wrote for students were exemplary, perhaps he was able to see more potential in his students than they even felt they had themselves.

     In the end, there are many adjectives to describe Jack; but most importantly he cared deeply about his family, geography, the department and his students. While he isn’t here on this earth with us anymore, he lives on in each of us through all that he taught us about geography and all that he gave us from himself.

Barbara Feist
Class of 2002


Professor Mrowka had a profound impact on my educational endeavors and attitudes about the field of Geography. Thankfully, I was able to participate in one of his classes and benefit from his enthusiastic style of teaching.  I am determined to continue my studies in Geography at CSUS, but I, as well as all who have had the pleasure of knowing him, will miss his presence.

Eric T. Bond


There were many little things about Jack that were endearing. He was so very busy and energetic, always on the move. On every field trip where there was hiking, we had trouble keeping up with him. He would rush into class late, hair Jackflying with his arms full of slides and just jump right into the lecture without missing a beat. He always wore those funny animal ties even when conducting field tests in the river (I have pictures of it).

     His mind was equally quick. I was amazed when he filled out my geography advisor sheet because he knew by heart every class that would be offered for 2 years and which classes would conflict. He made time for students even when he had none, always making us feel welcome. He was so full of information and always more than willing to share (sometimes making my head swim). He set the informal atmosphere in the department making it warm and inviting.

     I miss him very much.

Marill Jacobson
Class of 2002


River

Jack was more than a mentor and instructor, he was a good friend.  I mourn his passing. Whenever I see a river I always think of him. I think even the rivers will miss him.

Troy White 
CSUS Alumni '01, Imagery Analyst


Dr. Jack Mrowka was at the same time an extremely humble and humbling man, one that I was proud to have known.

     I remember Jack as one of the most passionate educators I've ever had the privilege to learn from. He was a rare and welcome find in the world of academia, and his dedication to his students and the advancement of his field exemplify the qualities to which every teacher should aspire. As one of those exceptional individuals whose life was simultaneously consumed with teaching as well asJack learning, Jack was a wealth of knowledge, especially in the field of river studies. But unlike other professors, Jack never announced his scholarly prowess from a lofty intellectual plane that might otherwise alienate his students. Instead, Jack embraced a teaching method steeped more in personalized attention that groomed students to be equally passionate about the subject matter he taught. In doing so, Jack equipped his students to explore material not for the sake of achieving a grade, but to genuinely expand their knowledge and curiosity. As one of his former students, I am forever grateful that Jack Mrowka shared his passion.

Phillip R. Serna
Vice President of Regional Governmental Affairs
Home Builders Association of Northern California


Over the last thirty years, I have been privileged to have known a small constellation of professors: Homer Ashman, Frank Finenga, John Goins, Jack Mrowka; who possessed intellectual passion without affectation and had the rare ability to relate seemingly dissimilar fields of study into a transcendent whole. 

     Doctor Jack Mrowka was a consummate professor. His teaching was immeasurably valuable, his advice in academic matters was always freely given, his enthusiasm was infectious and his energy seemed limitless.  The passion for the intellectual pursuit will remain with all of the students that Dr. Mrowka taught. While these gifts remain, the person and the friend will be forever missed.

Jim McManus


I thought he was a great teacher who loved his subject and was so enthusiastic about it that he enjoyed passing his knowledge and love about it to any who were interested. As my first contact with the department other than you, Prof. Mrowka was a great welcomer to the department and gave me a wonderful indication of the caring family atmosphere of the entire department from staff to students. No matter what was involved Prof. Mrowka always put his students first, even if he had never met them before. He was a mentor to me and I am sure to others, one, who really made an impact and will always be remembered fondly. Take care.

Sheri Rush
Class of 2002


Jack so generously donated his time to come out on a Saturday to help me with a project for my Ecology class.  He lugged all the equipment down to the river - quite a feat considering how much he brought.  We began by taking flow readings in the slow side of an island - fortunately that side was shallow.  Dr. J waded right in - jeans and all - it didn't matter to him about getting his clothes wet.  Then we switched to the swifter, deeper portion of the river.  I went out ahead as I was wearing a swimsuit underneath my shorts and did not mind getting wet at all.  Dr. J kept wading out farther and farther and I kept warning him that his cell phone and wallet were going Jackto get wet, but he kept assuring me, "No, everything was fine".  He was so enthusiastic about helping me with this project that I guess it didn't matter to him.  In the end when we went back up on shore, sure enough - his cell phone and wallet had gotten wet.  Oh boy, now he was going to be in trouble with Laura!  When he did get back to the office and the phone had dried out but was no longer working, Laura gave him a mild scolding.  I told her I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't listen.

     I took the field course from Dr. J and have never seen ANY instructor in my four years at CSUS who was so enthusiastic about his work.  He had an insatiable curiosity and his enthusiasm was infectious.  In his Central and South American courses he always stated his motive up front that his goal was to get his students to travel down there.  Dr. J made a deep impression on me and he will never be forgotten.  He was a breath of fresh air and an inspiration amidst academia.

   Cindy Atchison
    
Class of 2002


I first met Professor Jack Mrowka one hot summer day two years ago.  I'd come to CSUS for new student orientation, collected an armload of "important" paperwork, taken the campus tour, and began to feel acutely out of place.  My background was entirely blue collar and I felt ill prepared for the unfamiliar social structure and challenging financial requirements of university life.  I knew I was a good student after working my way through community college, but it seemed like maybe I was just too far out of my element . . . That's when I first saw Jack Mrowka.  He Jackcame rushing into the room carrying boxes full of paperwork and, yes, slides.  (He always seemed to be carrying slides).  He was sporting a wide smile, a funny haircut, faded blue jeans, and a tie that matched no other part of his outfit.  I immediately recognized him as a geographer.  In the roughly twenty minutes that followed, he managed to reassure and inspire that little roomful of proto-geographers (myself included) and left us feeling excited about the journey ahead.

     Professor Mrowka taught classes the same way as he lectured to us that first day - with a passion to share what he knew.  He struck a balance between respecting the knowledge we walked in with and enthusiastically encouraging us to expand our horizons.  He was a man constantly in motion, the definition of a multi-tasker, but never (and I mean never) too busy to advise or aid any student that approached him with a problem.  He was the heart and soul of the department, and I do not envy his colleagues their task of trying to continue the program without him.  However, I know Professor Mrowka would expect them to do just that.  He'd counsel them to look the situation over, figure out what needed doing, and then "go for it".  He taught that lesson right along with his lectures on landforms, fluvial processes, and erosion.  Never give up, find your goal, and go for it.  He shared his drive for knowledge and his love for geography with all of his students, but he also taught us a great deal about having confidence in our own potential.  I'll always be grateful for what he taught me and feel privileged to have known a man like Jack Mrowka, a gifted teacher and a true geographer.

Unsigned

I first met Jack during the summer of 1974 in Eugene.  He had just arrived to begin his appointment at Oregon.  I knew his background already:  geomorphologist, PhD from UCLA, first teaching job at Chicago--credentials that I associated with a person "on the make" professionally, a person likely to be remote and superior.  Of course what I found immediately in our brief introduction was that Jack was soft-spoken, modest, and most of all, genuinely friendly and eager to please.

     Nine years later, when he first taught part-time here at Sac State, I found him to be as I had remembered from the first encounter in Eugene.  He was living in Santa Rosa, commuting here several days a week in a huge old Chevy Suburban that required about as much in gas money as he earned.  Never one to waste time, he used the time driving as a chance to collect temperature data which he imagined some day would allow preparation of a detailed report, or he sorted slides into a carousel for use in his classes that day.  You never know what those other drivers around you might be doing!

     On several occasions during this period Jack accepted my standing offer to stay the night at our house rather than make the trip to Santa Rosa and back.  On one of these stay-overs he spoke with great excitement and enthusiasm about a young woman he had met at the planetarium at Santa Rosa Junior College.  A planetarium--Jack's version of a singles bar! JackThis particular young woman was especially attractive to him because she had a background in civil engineering and was conversant in matters relating to stream hydraulics.  The Manning and Chézy equations.  Reynolds number, Froude number.  Kathy's number!  She also made candy.  Jack was dazzled.

     In addition to a sophisticated background in geography, Jack also had a simple collector's urge to visit every state, every continent, every country in Latin America.  Time and money and a young family were obstacles, but Jack was never one to be put off track.  In the summer of 1990 Jack and Kathy and Greg and Anna went on a whirlwind trip to Venezuela and Puerto Rico.  I believe they were in Venezuela no more than three or four days, during which time they covered about 1500 miles in a rental car and Jack took about a thousand slides--most of them while the car was moving, fast.  I presume he was the driver too.   Theseslides are readily identified by the blurred foreground.

 Out of this trip, in the fall of 1990,  he gave a slide presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers in Chico dealing with the distribution of natural vegetation in Central Northern Venezuela, comparing what was actually there (as seen at 100 kph) with what was shown on half a dozen or so vegetation maps from textbooks and atlases.  Most in the audience were unaware of what a high wire act this was for Jack, but I marveled at his ability to look at the projected slides of the maps and say what vegetation was indicated, because Jack was color blind and even with normal color vision I couldn't distinguish one type from another.  Jack of course was armed with about three carousels full of slides with fifteen minutes allocated for his talk plus five minutes more for discussion.  After twenty-five minutes, with at least another carousel to go, the session chair had to give Jack the hook.  I think this episode in a way captures Jack's approach to life-energetic and enthusiastic and optimistic and bursting at the seams to get out and see the world and share what he saw with others.  I'm sure for young Greg and Anna it was an unforgettable experience, possibly as well for the Chico audience!

      Jack was immensely proud to be a geographer.  He also was proud of his background growing up in western New York and of his undergraduate alma mater, SUNY Buffalo, and of the Buffalo Bills whom he perennially expected to win the Super Bowl with Jim Kelly at quarterback.  He attributed much of his character, including his constant striving to be the best geographer he could be, to the influence of the nuns who were his teachers up to high school.  I don't think Jack ever in his life smoked or drank or swore.  I never knew him to in the nineteen years he was at CSUS.  But the nuns may not have been the primary influence in this (certainly Irish Catholics smoke and drink and swear, but I don't know about Polish Catholics).  For part of his youth Jack lived with his family in a large farm house in the vicinity of Palmyra, New York, so large that Jack and his five brothers each had a bedroom.  About four miles south of Palmyra is Hill Cumorah, a proper drumlin on the north end of which sits the Angel Moroni Monument, commemorating the place where Joseph Smith received the golden tablets.  Every summer tens of thousands of Mormon faithful come from all over the world to the Hill Cumorah Pageant.  They need lodging.  Jack's parents took the opportunity to supplement the family income by renting out rooms in their home, Jack and his brothers moving temporarily to the barn.  The Mormons, vigorous proselytizers that they are, saw this as an opportunity for more than lodging, and directed young attractive Mormon women to the Mrowka residence.  I've wondered if Jack's character wasn't influenced somehow as a result, at least in the area of smoking, drinking, and swearing.

       Although I don't think Jack knew of Joseph Campbell--that wasn't his sort of thing--I cannot help thinking of Campbell's phrase "follow your bliss" when thinking of Jack.  A more complete statement of Campbell's idea: "If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living."  To me, that was Jack.  He found joy in life because he had followed his bliss.  Geographer, husband, father, traveler, colleague.  Unfailingly polite, friendly, cheerful, optimistic, ready to help.

A few more Campbell quotes, each of which seems apropos of Jack:

"Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy."

 "Out of perfection nothing can be made.  Every process involves breaking something up."

 "The warrior's approach is to say 'yes' to life: 'yea' to it all."

"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

"We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy."

     Jack's own expression of philosophy of life, which he found about six years ago and typically repeated many times a day, was simple:

           NO PROBLEM............GO FOR IT!

Bob Richardson
CSUS GEOGRAPHY Department


I didn't know Jack well, but our paths crossed several times while he was at Oregon and later in Sacramento, and I always looked forward to seeing him again when the opportunity presented itself. I have no doubt that he was a superb teacher. His infectious smile and his enthusiasm for his subject would have gotten almost anyone involved. In his own quiet way he made significant contributions to the discipline and he will be sorely missed.

Elliot McIntire
California State University, Northridge


am deeply saddened with the learning of Jack's passing. I will miss him. I met him in 1979 in my second year with the USGS after graduate School. I walked into this professor's office a the University of Oregon in Eugene to ask if there was someone with whom I could discuss hydrology. It didn't take long for his infectious smile and boundless energy to shine through, even for someone (me) still finishing his MS degree while working fulltime.

    I quickly learned of Jack's love, like mine, for rivers, to simply understand them. And as a field technician during those years, he quickly found ways for me to help his students, sometimes when I least expected it. Once while working at a stream gage on Winberry Creek a big yellow bus pulled up and out stepped Jack with a big smile and about 30 students, whereupon he had me explain real-world hydrology and data collection. My supervisor told me later he called knowing I was in the field that week to find out where to take his class.

     There were more times we shared the love of just being in the field seeing what was going on in Western Oregon. And there was only one time I got the better of him, shortly after the eruption of Mount St. Helens. While he had to pay for a short helicopter ride around the edges of the red zone, I got to fly in the red zone and into the crater as part of my work collecting data. He always laughed about that.

      While he left for California, I went on to Phoenix, AZ and now Tacoma, WA, but we've kept in touch now and then. I can't think of him without smiling and thinking of his spirit for life. My heart and prayers go to Kathy and the family and the Department for the loss of someone so special to many. He will be missed.

Scott M. Knowles 
USGS


Jack Mrowka made a great impact on my life. His passion for his work was inspiring and moved me to change my field of study from Geology to Geography. I have many memories of Jack Mrowka but one seems to stand out. Right before graduating my nephew asked to go to some of my classes for a project he was doing. As with most teenagers, he was bored with school in general and my classes were not any different. By the time we got to Jack’s class he was disappointed in the prospects of college all together.

     After ten minutes of waiting for Jack my nephew asked impatiently when the class would start. I said any minute. Just then Jack busted through the class door holding several reels of slides under one arm and a file folder under the other. His shirttail was hanging out and his hair was messed up. Jack quickly set everything down on the desk and excitedly started the class. After a while I looked over at my nephew who was captivated by Jack’s enthusiasm and anecdotes. He later told me that he couldn’t wait to get to college and that Jack was the “coolest” teacher he had every seen.

     Whether it was being “cool” or passionate about life, Jack had the key to capturing our attention and will forever inspire us.

Doug Allen
Research Analyst (GIS)


I was very shocked and sad to hear that Jack passed away.

     When I met Jack for the first time, it was during the Fall of 2000 to get my geography advisor sheet and my petition for graduation sheet filled out. I was amazed how he took the time to help me do the paper work and pick out the classes I needed to get the Geography Degree. During this time I told him that I wanted to take Geography 110: Advanced GIS class which would be offered for the first time in Fall 2001, my last semester before graduation. He told me that the Department was trying to hire a teacher but was uncertain if they would find one by the time the class started .  He also indicated that if the hiring did not work out, he would either teach me one on one under Geography 199: Special Problems or he would teach the class himself. Either way, I would have the credits to graduate as I had planned.  I was really surprised that he offered to do that for me and the other students. It turned out he did teach Geography 110 for about a half semester before  the formal instructor was able to take over the class.  Jack's Field class was one of the best classes I ever took. Jack took the class to places I had never been to before and I really enjoyed it.  The class was almost like a PE class since we walked and hiked a lot.  It was a challenge sometimes to keep up with him because he was a really fast walker. The hardest trip was the first trip to Wright's Lake. Jack was able to walk fast about a mile or two and go up a steep hill with no problem while some of the class including myself was out of breath by the time we reached the top of the hill. Also on the Bodega Bay trip I could not believe how fast he could run down the beach from the cliffs to the shoreline with the tape measurer.  Jack was a very fast runner. I am sure he could outrun anyone in the class with no problem. I am glad I was able to go on every trip with the class. I learned about new things and went to new places on every trip. Most of all, I enjoyed the class tremendously. 

     Jack always wore a smile to greet whoever came to him.  He always took the time to talk to students who had a problem or just wanted to talk.  His door was always open to students. He was one of the few teachers who you could talk to and he would listen.  Jack really cared about his students and it showed.  He was like a friend to all his students. I am glad I was able to have a class with him to know him better as a person then as a Department Chair.  Jack took the time to attend graduation despite his busy schedule. . I am glad he was one of the three people I shook hands with during the Graduation Ceremony.  I remember him looking at me with a big smile and saying "Congratulations you did it". I am honored to have had him as a teacher and to know him as friend. I will miss him very much.

Troy C. Dick
Class Of 2001


What a great honor and privilege it has been to know Jack Mrowka. Although I was only able to have one field class with him, it felt like much more than that. His drive and enthusiasm kept such a quick and active pace to the class that it was an adventure just to be in the same vehicle with him or walk beside him (if you could keep up). His knowledge and memory was incredible. He knew something about everything. He would tell a story about every hill, every type of cloud or fog, every pattern of urbanization (or lack of it), even about the cattle in the fields, every mile from here to Bodega Bay. Standing in the river taking measurements (fully dressed with jeans and a tie), on his knees digging into the ground for soil samples, hiking up hill carrying way too much stuff and going faster than all the students, yet at the same time always caring about the students and  the topic for the day are what I remember about him. 

     He had time for students even when he was already doing 5 other things. No matter what time of day it was if I walked into the Geography office and he was there, he would poke his head out of his office, say hello and ask if there was anything he could do for me. He was an encourager who always made me feel proud to be a student of Geography.

    His hands-on style of teaching, his wonderful and memorable slide-shows and his infectious positive attitude made Geography come to life for me. I am a better person for knowing him.

Tia Manley
Class of 2002


When I entered the CSUS Geography Department in the Fall of 1993, I always viewed the professors and staff of the department as one big family who strived to help students and promote the discipline.  Professor Jack Mrowka was a part of that family, and with his passing, there is a loss that can never be replaced.  But fond memories of him and how he contributed to each of our lives will always remain.

Unfortunately, I only took two classes with Professor Mrowka so I never got to know him as much as many others have.  I will always remember him for his enthusiasm for teaching and his energy in the field, stories of how he was always a mile ahead of his students were very true.  But how I will remember Jack the most is for how he remembered me after I graduated from CSUS.  I will never forget December of 1996, when I had just completed my first quarter at UC Davis in graduate school.  At a Geography Christmas party I talked with him at length about the difference between graduate vs. undergraduate school and differences between CSUS and UCD.  That evening was the longest I ever talked to him and I learned much about his own graduate school experiences, giving me advice and encouragement in the process.

     A year and a half later, I attended the APCG Conference in Spokane, Washington, giving my first paper at a conference related to my Masters Thesis research.  I was a scholarship recipient recognized at the reception as a student at UC Davis.  I remember Jack was in attendance, letting colleagues know around him that I attended CSUS for Geography too.  

Professor Jack Mrowka will always be a part of my memories at CSUS and beyond.  Although things won't be the same for me without him at the Geography Department, he has made such an impact on all of us that we can never forgot him and his contributions to the field of Geography.

Carol Ann Gregory
Class of 1996


Although I had but one class with Jack Mrowka, I feel as though I've lost a close friend indeed. And this alone speaks volumes about the man he was.

   Of Jack's many qualities, my favorites were his friendliness and his modesty. Regardless of his position and accomplishments, I never felt that Jack treated me as anything but an equal. He was as approachable as he was knowledgeable, as helpful as he was talented. Jack obviously loved what he did and wanted to share his passion with those around him. No matter how busy he was, and it seemed that he was always busy, he would drop everything to answer a question or help with a problem. The world could use a lot more like him. Although he is gone, the important thing is that he made a positive impact on the people he knew. And we will always remember him fondly.

Neal Bergquist
California Department of Conservation
Office of Mine Reclamation
Abandoned Mine Lands Unit


It has been over a decade since I last spoke with Jack Mrowka in person but his spirit was one of such enthusiasm and generosity that he has remained a very clear personality to me. I remember him as being without artifice or pretension. He was real. He was genuine. And I remember him as a man who gave generously of his time, his knowledge and his abundant energy and who spoke frequently and with great love of his wife, Kathy, and of his children.

     Jack was one of several CSUS Geography Department professors who made a significant contribution to my love of geography and my decision to pursue a career in this field. I took several of his classes, did an independent research project under his guidance and spent countless hours talking to him about graduate schools and potential career paths.  I have no doubt that the letter of recommendation he wrote for me was one of the reasons I was able to attend the graduate school of my choice. I was far older than the average student but he saw that as no obstacle and encouraged me to go after the career that I wanted. And I have. Thank you for believing in me, Jack. He really cared about his students and did all he could, in so many ways, to help them. Whether it was teaching, advising, sharing his experience as a geographer, offering encouragement, or being a student’s number one cheerleader, he was there, present in the moment and doing his enthusiastic best.

     I have many memories of Jack and I’m grateful for them. I remember he had a license plate that read something like “WLDRIVER”. He said that the police stopped him occasionally, thinking it meant Wild Driver and not being too happy about that, and Jack would have to explain it meant Wild River. Rivers will always remind me of Jack and his passion for them. He passed that passion along joyously to any student who cared to listen and those of us who did gained something in the listening. His field trips were memorable, varied and interesting. One of them, to some vernal pools, was so fascinating that Sue Markie and I decided to do a vernal pool research project. Jack enthusiastically agreed to oversee our work and spent several Saturday mornings slogging through the fields with us. I’m sure he had many other things he could have been doing but he never let on. He treated us and our work with respect.

     When I think of Jack, it seems to me that at least part of his legacy is that there are so many people who are the better for having known him. He had such a generous spirit. I’m so sad that he has gone so soon.

Meredith Fordyce
Rural Health Research Center
University of Washington


Jack was such a special man and teacher, I will always remember him with great fondness, respect and admiration.  I always looked forward to his classes, especially his Friday field course. Nikki brags that she got to take the field course twice, and I for that I am envious of her. Jack will be missed deeply by so many, I just hope that his family can find comfort in knowing that so many friends share in their grief.

Donna Prince


I just visited the website after some time...and I'm so sad to hear about Jack. I'm in South Carolina at USC, getting my Masters in Geography, thanks to Jack especially. He wrote me a letter of recommendation, and I know I wouldn't be here without his help. He had a great spirit. Upon my arrival at USC this fall Dr. James and Dr. Mock immediately asked about Jack --wanting to know how he and his rivers were. It will be difficult to tell them about Jack.

He supported his students -- genuinely cared about us. A fact that was evident in everything he did. I wish I could have thanked him.  We will miss you Jack.

Jamie King
Class 01


I can't believe Dr. Mwrowka is gone. Combing through the CSUS Arts & Sciences Today newsletter, I was hoping to find highlights of accomplishments by geographers. I was shocked to see "In Memoriam" with Jack's picture beside it. He was one of the most enthusiastic teachers I've ever had. Dr. Mwrowka genuinely loved geography, particularly hydrology (the man built a river in his backyard for goodness sake!) and it showed!

He was a man with a big brain and had a keen talent for explaining challenging concepts to us "little brains." To this day, I remember many of the concepts he taught (it's been over a decade since I've been in one of his classes) and apply them to my teaching. One quick memory of him was when he took a group of us on a field trip and he recalled the first time he met his wife and their engagement story. He was so fond of his family, and, even though I made fun of him, it was a touching story! I've been amazed how impactful teachers can be on their students - even decades later - and Dr. Mwrowka has had one of the most positive impressions on my life!

Sabrina Gilliam


I was a student in a few of his geography classes in the early 1990's as I was working on obtaining my degree in Social Science. As I was checking in my spare time to see who was still on board in the Geography Department, I was saddened to hear of Professor Mrowka's passing. I remember him as a very genuine man who loved teaching geography and showing his famous slides of the many places he had been in the world. I specifically had him for Latin and South American Geography and some of his stories and other things he had to say about the area still stick in my mind. Thanks Professor Mrowka for making a difference and for inspiring me to incorporate Geography and slides as well into my curriculum as a 7th grade World History teacher.

David Rathjen