MINNEAPOLIS - John Fraser Hart is a man of routines - and a U of M professor who is anything but.
The WWII navy sailor will mark his 89th birthday next week, still following his daily "rituals" on the way to geography class: ride the elevator, drink at the water fountain, then pull from his bag two carousels, each pre-loaded with 80 Kodachrome slides.
Students shuffle in, the lights go off and the slide projector fan hums. Class with the oldest professor at the University of Minnesota is now in session.
"That's the first time I've had a professor do that," thought student Lorena Jimenez on her first day of class. PowerPoint and smart boards are fine tools for other professors, but Hart prefers to work from his collection of more than 50,000 slides. All of them he took himself.
"Slides are like toothbrushes, they're personal. You can't use somebody else's," Hart says, with a twinkle in his eye.
Each slide comes with a lesson - or as Hart would prefer to call it, "a story." Narration is provided by Hart from the back of the darkened room.
There are slides of refineries in Houston and glacial lakes in Minnesota, many of them taken from the above.
It's a point of pride for Hart to know which seats on an airliner are best for taking slides. "You want to be in 7A going east because that's the shady side, and coming this way you want to be 7F," he advises.
One student wrote in her class evaluation, "I haven't seen this many slides since my grandmother's trip to Hawaii." Hart knows his old-school tactics don't work for every student. Those are the evaluations that "keep my honest," he says. But plenty of students find his classes engaging, informative and unique.
"His slides are really beautiful and he tells really good stories," said Kate Pruden, a geography major who took the class based on a recommendation from a friend.
Hart earned his undergraduate degree enlisting in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He continued his studies after the war and taught geography at the University of Georgia and Indiana University before arriving at the U of M - with his slides - in 1967.
"The oldest slide I regularly use I took in 1952," said Hart.
"If it works, why change it," laughs Katherine Klink, an associate professor in the geography department, whose office is just around the corner from Hart. "He'll probably tell you stories about how difficult it is to find slide projectors that actually work."
Hart's office does have a university supplied computer. He pauses when asked about it. "I tolerate it," he finally responds.
A scan of the room also reveals a Dictaphone, a decades-old electric fan and an electric teapot Harry Truman could have used.
"Can't throw away something that might be useful," said Hart.
If anyone in the geography department needs the Agriculture Year Book from 1924, they know where to find it. That also happens to be the year Fraser Hart was born. "I was long before PowerPoint," he grins.
Hart couldn't pin down the number of books he's written, without counting. When asked for a number, he settles on 17.
Asked if he's still shooting slide, he responds, "I'm not dead." He's also not retiring. Hart has already re-signed with the university for next fall.
"Once you've got slides you've got to show them to somebody," he reasons. Of course, it's more than that. "I had fun today," he said after class. "I had fun sharing what I've learned."
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