University of Minnesota professor Dwight Brown encouraged questions from his geography students.
“When he was teaching, he always had some of those fun-sized candy bars,” said daughter Cindy Brown Polson. “When a student asked a question, he’d give a candy bar to a student. He loved rewarding their curiosity.”
Brown’s nearly five-decade career at the U was fueled by his own curiosity.
“He loved learning and had a sense of curiosity and it was the driving factor in his career,” said Brown Polson.
Brown, of Falcon Heights, died on June 19 at Regions Hospital from natural causes. He was 83.
Former colleague and professor emeritus Richard Skaggs said Brown never accepted a first, easy answer.
“He always questioned and probed for deeper understanding. Dwight believed strongly in the value and importance of education and inspired the same qualities in his children and his many students,” Skaggs said.
Brown was born to Dallas and Verna Brown on Aug. 15, 1936, in Aledo, Ill. He grew up in Galva, Ill.
After graduating from Galva High School, he enrolled at Illinois State University, where he met Helen Monroe. They were married in 1956 and put their education on hold. They moved to Livingston County, Ill., and started a family while they began farming.
But after their daughter was born, Brown decided to finish his college education. He enrolled at Western Illinois University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geography.
He then earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in geography from the University of Kansas. After earning his doctorate in 1966, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Minnesota.
During his tenure at the U, he focused on the biogeography of the Midcontinent Plains and he served as the department chair, director of the Water Resources Research Center and as an adviser to graduate students.
Professor Robert McMaster wrote in an e-mail, “He was a renaissance geographer, interested in all aspects of our discipline. Dwight is the faculty member who started our GIS course.”
Brown also was an associate fellow of the Center for Great Plains Study at the University of Nebraska.
Prof. Richard Edwards, the director of the center, wrote in an e-mail that the center “was honored to include Dwight Brown among our Associate Fellows, a group of distinguished scholars and scientists connected by their professional curiosity about the natural environment and human communities of the Great Plains.”
According to Edwards, “Professor Brown’s research, like that of so many others, was typically reported in venues seemingly of interest only to other scientists, yet when our nation faces great crises, whether global climate change or pandemic or racial injustice, we turn to and depend upon the life’s work of the Dwight Browns of this world. His was a noble calling.”
After retiring from the U in 2005, he continued to publish work on his website. His daughter said he remained active.
“He led groups from his church on day trips,” said Brown Polson. “They would go bird-watching. They went to Minneopa State Park [near Mankato] to view the bison.”
In addition to his daughter, who lives in Plymouth, Brown is survived by daughter Lori Casey of New Brighton; son Kyle of Pomona, Calif.; eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Helen Brown died in 2018. They were married 61 years.
A service will be held at a later date.