Professor Emeritus James Kirchner spent more than 30 years helping establish Illinois State’s geology program.

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Kirchner began his career as an exploration geologist for an oil company, working in Libya and Nigeria. He returned to the classroom in the mid-1960s to pursue his doctorate. “I wanted more autonomy in my science, so I decided to go back to school.”

ISU hired Kirchner in 1969 to help start the University’s new geology major. He was instrumental in developing several courses and the graduate program in geohydrology. He also created the program’s first field camp in 1974. This summer capstone experience still offers students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills by investigating geologic areas.

“Field geology was my forte. I just loved doing that,” Kirchner said. “The camp is a tremendously clarifying course. You just tie everything together.”

In later years, he worked as curator for the ISU Museum’s geology collection and set up the program’s mineral display in the Felmley Hall of Science. His research focused on igneous rocks in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

“I feel good about being on the ground floor of the geology program,” Kirchner said. “The thing I’m most proud of is working with the students. I think I had a good effect on their professional abilities and sometimes on their personal lives.”

Kirchner retired from Illinois State in 2002. He and his wife, Kathleen (Bake) ’76, split their time between Tawas City, Michigan—a small town on the shore of Lake Huron—and their winter home in Florida.

In retirement Kirchner has pursued his passions for sailing and outdoor photography. He has also served on the Alabaster Township Planning Commission and Iosco County Habitat for Humanity’s board of directors. He is a member of a local United Fund drive board and volunteers with a Coat for Kids program.

Kirchner can be reached at

One thought on “Where are they now? James Kirchner

  1. Krystal Foltynewicz says:

    Love this article!! He was a wonderful instructor & made my university experience more enjoyable. Glad to see he is enjoying retirement!!