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July 22, 2011

Retired professor celebrates 90th, greets hundreds at ULM Museum of Natural History

Hundreds of well-wishers streamed into the Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, July 20, to celebrate the 90th birthday of retired ULM professor John H. McCarter Jr., whose hiring at the university made local news almost 60 years ago.

University of Louisiana at Monroe President Dr. Nick J. Bruno joined McCarter's family, friends, colleagues and former students in the festivities.

Upon their first meeting, McCarter proclaimed to Bruno that he could identify the location of any rock in any photo without benefit of other identifiable landmarks.

Bruno said he had a framed photo of his daughter in his office and that McCarter properly identified the rock on which Bruno's daughter was standing as part of the Giant's Causeway in northern Ireland.

Bruno said he couldn't help but be impressed.

"I looked at him and I said, 'you're good,'" Bruno told the audience. "That's when Mr. McCarter reminded me that its not bragging if you can prove it."

McCarter also regaled those gathered around the massive birthday cake near the museum entrance with his own tales, including his "rocky" start at what was then Northeast State College, where he procured much of his needed geological materials on his own, including actual rocks and fossils.

"Some of these fossils have my blood on them, I tell you that," he said, glancing around the museum. "It's been a wonderful life ... and I love every one of you. I've got some wonderful students here."

Some of the former students who came to Monroe for the Wednesday celebration included Gary Parrish, who worked under McCarter for several years and became "like family," as well as Billy Abraugh who shared a story about a road trip with McCarter and other students up the Appalachian trail, the entire length of which is roughly 2,100 miles long.

Not quite 20 miles into the trail, Abraugh said the group of young men eventually took turns toting their professor back to base.

"Later that evening, he told us, 'get ready boys, we're going back to Monroe,'" said Abraugh, with a laugh.

Abraugh and Parrish were joined by Joseph Jacobs Sr., all who were among the first of McCarter's geology students at the university.

"We got a lot of war stories," said Jacobs, referring to McCarter's time in the service during World War II. "He was entertaining, to say the least."

But retired ULM Biology Professor Emeritus Dr. Neil Douglas, a former colleague of McCarter, described the geologist most succinctly.

"Eccentric, with a capital E," Douglas said, smiling, as he looked admiringly toward McCarter.

The audience applauded when McCarter, with his faithful canine friend "Sassy" by his side, declared that Wednesday's event was just a celebration of 90 years of living, and in no way to be construed as "a swan song."

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