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FHSU staff pays tribute to Heinrichs




Fort Hays State University officials said Monday they didn't know how they would replace a teacher like John Heinrichs.

It is the understanding of FHSU officials Heinrichs, who would have been 57 Thursday, was found dead Saturday at his home when the Hays Police Department did a welfare check. Heinrichs' wife, Maureen Duffy, became concerned when she could not contact her husband by phone while she was in Connecticut.

Heinrichs, chairman of the geosciences department at the university, began teaching at the school in fall 1998 as an assistant professor.

"From the university standpoint, he is going to be extremely hard to replace," FHSU President Edward Hammond said. "We have a lot of outstanding faculty, but John was a leader among the faculty, past president of the faculty senate."

Hammond said among Heinrich's accomplishments at the school was spearheading the effort to bring a Doppler radar project to FHSU, to be one of the few locations in the United States to monitor solar storms.

"He was the lead person in getting that research project here," Hammond said.

Heinrichs was known for his research on the polar ice caps with NASA. Among honors he received were FHSU's Pilot Award in 2003 and FHSU's President's Distinguished Scholar in 2008.

Heinrichs received his bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He received his doctorate at the University of Colorado.

Heinrichs also interacted well with his students in the classroom, said Chris Crawford, FHSU's interim provost.

"John was always very good about working with undergraduate and graduate students on projects," Crawford said. "He really enjoyed integrating students into his own research.

"He's a tremendous loss. John had just a great passion, energy, a vibrance that will be difficult to follow. It'll be hard to find somebody to replace that sort of energy, and that passion for working with students."

Paul Faber, dean of the college of arts and sciences at FHSU, remembered Heinrichs as someone always seeking to improve his department -- and himself.

"He was always thinking of how they could do things better," Faber said. "He was very energetic, very concerned about the students and the faculty in the department. He was a great chair.

"He was in a particular department, but his interests were wide-ranging. For example, he has been sitting in on Spanish classes to try to learn Spanish, despite the fact he was (56) years old. He was one of those people who really wanted to never stop learning."

Hammond, who has been friends with Heinrichs since he recruited him to come to FHSU, remembered the friendly banter they would have about the relative merits of handball versus racquetball.

"He was kidding me after I announced my retirement, now I don't have any excuses about not playing handball," Hammond said. "I used to play racquetball with a number of the faculty. He's been always, 'That's a sissy's game -- you got to play handball.' So we've been kidding around for years."

Hammond said FHSU will have a memorial service for Heinrichs, either next week or the week after, so faculty and students who still are on winter break can attend.

"I just had the utmost respect for him," Hammond said. "If you would pick an all-star faculty team, he would be right at the head of that list."