2010 Nelson Award
Gene LaBerge and Sally LaBerge have been named the 2010 recipient of the Katherine G. Nelson Award, presented by the Weis Earth Science Museum, Menasha, Wisconsin. The award honors those who have made outstanding contributions to earth science in Wisconsin or Wisconsinites who have made outstanding contributions to earth science in general.
Dr. Gene and Sally LaBerge have devoted themselves to deciphering the ancient geology of Wisconsin and sharing their knowledge and love for rocks, minerals and fossils with generations of students of all ages.
Fatefully, they both were born on the untamed Precambrian terrane of northern Wisconsin, Gene in Ladysmith and Sally in Niagara. Gene received his introduction to Precambrian geology on a summer job for U.S. Steel in 1957. After identifying what he recalls as “several billion pebbles” during the summer of 1958, Gene recognized that Wisconsin Precambrian geology was more than a “green blob” on the map.
Gene and Sally both received their graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin. In 1965, both Sally and Gene were hired at the newly established geology department at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Given the mandate to build a department, Gene taught physical geology, mineralogy, lithology, optical and X-ray mineralogy, petrology, mineral deposits, and geology of Wisconsin, and Sally taught physical and historical geology labs, glacial geology and field methods. Over the next 33 years, Gene proved to be an exemplary educator, introducing students to field geology and inspiring numerous students to pursue careers as geologists.
As early as 1968, Gene’s work was attracting attention as demonstrated by the Tri-State Geological Field Trip that he and Len Weis organized to the greenstone belt of the Wausau area, which was attended by more than 600 people! Gene has spent more than fifty years conducting fieldwork on the Precambrian geology of Wisconsin and Michigan, with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey. During his career, Gene may have walked across more of Wisconsin—from Baraboo to Lake Superior—than anyone else. And he has the numerous publications to prove it.
Gene is no stranger to the award stage. Before his retirement in 1998, Gene received all of the teaching and research awards offered by UW Oshkosh—the only faculty member to have done so. In 1989, he received the Rosebush University Professor Award, the highest award that UW Oshkosh presents for teaching excellence, outstanding research and service. In 1995, he received the Goldich Medal from the Institute on Lake Superior Geology, which is awarded "to a geologist whose name is associated with a substantial interest in, or a major contribution to, the geology of the Lake Superior region". His book Geology of the Lake Superior Region is in its fifth printing. In 1999, he and his co-authors won the Best Paper Award from Mineralogical Record for their Flambeau Mine article. In 2004, Gene received the Charles A. Salotti Earth Science Education Award from the Seaman Mineral Museum Society at Michigan Technological University. It was noted that Gene “dedicated his life to the advancement of mineralogy and the geosciences through education, and in so doing has inspired many others to pursue careers in those fields.”
As a micropaleontologist, Sally began her geological career with a Fulbright Fellowship in Australia. She also taught at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and UW-Fox Valley. Sally’s “professional” career was more limited than Gene’s. But in many ways, Sally was probably the reason Gene was able to maintain such an active successful career. She raised their three daughters, kept the household together, helped with fieldwork and research, and condoned the unexpected care and feeding of fellow geologists who appeared on their doorstep, even when it was a cabin in the swamps. During all this, Sally has been an outstanding informal educator, generously sharing her love of fossils, minerals and Wisconsin geology with everyone. She was instrumental in establishing the youth program at the Oshkosh Earth Science Club, and helped generations of students and others understand what they were looking at on fieldtrips.