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Charles H. Ebert, distinguished UB professor ; June 3, 1924 -- Dec. 30, 2010

Charles H. Ebert, distinguished teaching professor emeritus in geography at the University at Buffalo, died Thursday in the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care, Cheektowaga. He was 86.

Dr. Ebert, who began teaching at the University of Buffalo in 1954, retired in 2000. But the award-winning professor taught as many as four courses a semester after retiring, including his popular and long-running undergraduate course, "Disasters: A Study of Hazards."

The Amherst resident became an expert in the field and wrote a textbook, "Disasters: Violence of Nature and Threats by Man."

In one of his last interviews, Dr. Ebert warned about the widespread damage to the ecosystem and the economy from the exploded oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But he cautioned against feeling hopeless and giving up.

"One duty is to stay informed," he told The Buffalo News in June. "Nothing is more dangerous than an uninformed public." He also urged people to support policies "that smell of some solution."

At the time, he was already preparing to teach "Disasters: An Analysis of Natural and Human-Induced Hazards" in the fall.

He spoke five languages: German, Russian, Spanish, French and English. His field work took him to Switzerland as recently at 1996 to study pollution and the melt rate of a glacier. During his career, he traveled around the world, for field work in Costa Rica, Russia, Poland, Greece, Peru and Afghanistan, among other countries, to study the effects of earthquakes, avalanches, volcanic eruptions, deforestation and soil erosion.

Closer to home, he conducted field research on the spread of toxic leachates at Love Canal, using soil samples and infrared aerial photographs. He once assisted Erie County prosecutors investigating a homicide by correlating ground conditions and weather radar data.

But Dr. Ebert will also be remembered for his teaching. Hundreds of students enrolled in his courses every year. He won the University at Buffalo Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence in 1975 and 1976; UB's Mr. Faculty Award in 1965 and 1968; and the Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Geography Teaching from the National Council for Geographic Education in 1990.

One incident in the 1960s revealed his manner of dealing with students.

"A dozen of what could be called radicals invaded my class, banging on trash cans," he recalled during an interview with The News in 2000.

Instead of calling security, like other professors did, provoking clashes, Ebert asked what he could do for the radicals.

When they said they wanted his students to join their strike, Dr. Ebert said it was up to his students, and put the option to a vote. The students voted to stay in class, and the radicals joined them for Ebert's lecture.

"I was here during the riots, and whether a class got disrupted depended to a large extent on the professor," he recalled. "It was not a matter of the professor being liked or not liked, but how the professor reacted. As some students overreacted, so did some professors."

Dr. Ebert was born in Hamburg, Germany, and attended private schools in Switzerland. He served in the U.S. Army. He earned a doctorate in geography at the University of North Carolina in 1957 after receiving a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in the field from there.

He is survived by a daughter, Monica.

A memorial will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at Roberts Funeral Home, 8630 Transit Road, Amherst.

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