Jack Brownstein was more than just a teacher. He was a friend to many of his students at the University of St. Thomas.

Polar explorer Will Steger, of Ely, Minn., was one of them.

"He was an inspiration as a teacher and became a personal friend throughout my life," said Steger, who is known for his expeditions to the North Pole and Antarctica.

Brownstein, who was named professor of the year in 1998 and credited with starting many programs at the university, died Sunday of cancer at his home in St. Paul. He was 62.

Steger said he changed his major to geology because of Brownstein.

"I'm a person who loves the outdoors, so the way Jack taught it had a lot to do with it, especially with a man like this at the head of the department," he said.

Paul Lane, a physics professor and longtime friend, credited Brownstein with starting the Geology Department. "He was a force at the University of St. Thomas," he said. "He built up the program to be a success."

In his 38 years at the university, he taught more than 7,000 students, 135 of whom were geology majors. Of the 135, 60 percent went on to earn graduate degrees, and 70 percent work in geology.

Lane said Brownstein also started the Geography Department, the environmental studies program and the science and mathematics major for elementary education in 1992. The program emphasizes math and science for elementary teachers.

John Kemper, a mathematics professor and longtime friend, said he got to know Brownstein through the elementary education program.

"There would be many nights he'd be here working with students from 10 to 11 at night," he said. "Whatever needed to be done, he'd be here doing it."

He said his friend knew just about everything there was to know about geology.

"You name it, if it had any aspect of geology, he not only knew it, he had taught it," Kemper said.

Brownstein didn't retire, and his last class was Sept. 20. He thought at first that he had the flu, Kemper said, but when it didn't go away, he had it checked out. It was cancer.

"He was a very private person," Kemper said. "He worked one-on-one with people, but he didn't go out making declarations about his accomplishments."

Paul Heger, a geophysical application support specialist for ARCO International in Dallas, said that he sent Brownstein e-mail a couple of times a day and that they talked once a week. Heger was a geology student who graduated in 1979.

He said he was from a small town, so when he got to the university, Brownstein "took me under his arm and made sure I got what I needed. He encouraged me to go to graduate school. His life was his students. That's what made him special. He was one of these guys who was very unassuming, but when it came right down to it, and it was important, things got done."

He is survived by his wife, Joan.

Services will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, 2115 Summit Av., St. Paul.