In Memoriam: Aureal T. Cross

Cross Collection

Aureal Cross and a small portion of his collection at Michigan State University.

The Michigan State University (MSU) College of Natural Science (CNS) is saddened by the loss of a world-class coal geologist, palynologist, paleobotanist and educator. Aureal T. Cross, professor emeritus of geological sciences and botany, died Dec. 2, 2013, at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Mich. He was 97 years old.

“Aureal was a remarkable individual who touched many lives through his incredible career,” said David Hyndman, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences.

Cross joined the MSU faculty in 1961, with joint appointments as professor in the Departments of Geology and Botany; he was also named curator of the Fossil Plant Herbarium. Here at MSU, he established one of the most comprehensive graduate training programs in paleobotany, palynology, biostratigraphy and paleoecology in North America.

After his official retirement in 1986, Cross continued working on research projects, attending professional meetings and publishing manuscripts. He also kept in touch with several generations of his students as well as with many colleagues over the years. Most recently, he co-authored a paper with Ralph Taggart, professor of geological sciences and one of Cross’s former students, which was published in February 2009 in Global and Planetary Change.

“With Aureal’s passing, we’ve lost a living link to one of the individuals who built the foundations of modern paleobiology in the early 20th century,” said Ralph Taggart, professor of geological sciences, and one of Cross’s mentees. “We’ve also lost an incredibly productive geologist, paleobotanist and teacher. He never expected anything less than 100 percent commitment, whether in his own work or that of the dozens of graduate students he mentored in his lab. He also exemplified the highest standards for service to his profession, his university and his community. He was truly ‘a man for all seasons,’ and it seems hardly adequate to say that he will be missed.”

Cross was born June 4, 1916, in Findlay, Ohio, and was raised on a dairy farm in Iowa. He was the second of five children born to Congregational minister Raymond W. and Myra Jane Coon Cross.

Pursuing an interest in music, Cross began classes at Coe College in Cedar Rapids in 1935 on a history and music scholarship. But he discovered a new interest after taking a geology course to fulfill his science requirement; he became hooked on the geological fieldwork.

Cross received his B.A. from Coe College in 1939. He completed his M.A. in botany with a minor in geology in 1941 and his Ph.D. in botany and paleontology in 1943 from the University of Cincinnati.
He taught premedical U.S. Navy students at the University of Notre Dame from 1943-1946. He took a leave of absence from 1943-1944 to accept a National Research Council Fellowship in Geology; part of that work was to search various regions of the United States to find coals of coking quality, an urgent need for the war-driven steel industry.

Cross was assistant professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati (1946-1949) and associate professor of geology at West Virginia University until 1957. He established graduate training and research programs in the West Virginia University Geology Department and the West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey, where he had dual appointments.

Prior to coming to MSU, he spent four years setting up a palynological research group for the Pan American Petroleum Corporation (later Amoco, and now BP) Research Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Throughout his career, Cross received numerous awards recognizing his outstanding contributions as a teacher, coal geologist, and paleobotanist. In 1999, at the 32nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists (AASP), Cross was named the first-ever recipient of the AASP Medal of Excellence in Education. During Cross’s emotional acceptance speech, he spoke of how he wished he could live to be 1,000 years old so that he could have the chance to do all the things remaining to be done in his field.

Cross’s influence will live on as others further the work he began. His research materials will be accessible to future palynologists for decades to come; the entire Cross Collection from MSU, including fieldwork, laboratory preparations and 350 field books with measured sections and original notes, has been transferred to the Field Museum in Chicago.

In addition, the Dr. Aureal T. Cross Endowed Graduate Fellowship, established at MSU in 2005, will continue to be used by the Department of Geological Sciences to support graduate student recruitment and/or summer graduate research projects.

Cross is survived by his children, Cheryl, Christina, Christopher,  Jonathan and Timothy;14 grandchildren;and four great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of 65 years—Aleen—in 2010.

A memorial service will be planned for early summer 2014. Contributions in his name can be made to the Chicago Field Museum Plaeobotany Collection; The First Presbyterian Church, Lansing, Mich.; or to the Dr. Aureal T. Cross Fellowship in the MSU Department of Geological Sciences in the College of Natural Science.