Joseph St. Jean was a professor of Geology at UNC Chapel Hill. He was 94 when he died this past March.
Because I was in the same department, in the early years of my PhD, I sometimes saw him around Mitchell Hall. Yes, indeed, he was still coming in to work in his office at age 90.
I wanted to talk to him because he was old, and I was sure he was full of stories. I had originally meant to write an article about him the way I eventually wrote about Dr. Joe Carter. But me barging into his office with my reporter’s attitude didn’t go over so well, and I didn’t get all that much information. I just got blank stares and some hesitation in his very old and red-rimmed eyes.
Well, if anyone ever does want to know more about this legend of Mitchell Hall, here’s what I gathered:
Joseph St. Jean spent his childhood in Washington State. He later graduated from the College of Puget Sound, which had 300 students and everyone was very close.
He then went to graduate school at Indiana University. His advisor was a Scotchman with a gruff voice who scared everyone away. Dr. St. Jean managed to stay on his good side. Then, during the summers, he worked for the Indiana Geological Survey to make some money, and even worked during the winter holidays. He was married by this time.
And that’s it! Dr. St. Jean’s specialty for research was finding fossils of sponges that date back to the pre-Cambrian era.