Bruce Nolf, 86, died peacefully at home in Cove, Oregon, May 8, 2018, from complications of multiple myeloma. He spent his final days in the love of gathered family.
Bruce was born January 15, 1932, to Luther Owen Nolf and Gladys (Bumgardner) Nolf in Iowa City, Iowa. As a Great Depression schoolboy, Bruce read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z after chores were done. During WWII (as a nine-year-old) Bruce cared for over a thousand chickens being raised for homeland consumption — possibly explaining his reluctance to build a chicken coop during retirement in Cove.
He attended University High School. As a junior, an English teacher persuaded him to join the track team. He ran the 440 dash and the 880 and mile relays, winning at state the next two years.
At the University of Iowa, Bruce majored in math and was recruited for track, becoming a four-year Big Ten letterman. An advisor informed him of grants available for studying geology, so Bruce added geology courses to his math studies, discovering his life-long passion.
Upon acceptance to the graduate geology program at prestigious California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech), Bruce hopped on his motorcycle for Pasadena. He was awarded his masters in 1955, then started teaching at UC Santa Barbara and Fresno State. With success and enjoyment of teaching, he knew he wanted to apply his geology background and research to educating others.
Dr. Ian Campbell, a Cal Tech faculty advisor, arranged for Bruce to meet with Dr. Harry Hess, the formidable geologist from Princeton University (developer of the theory of sea-floor spreading and a founding father of plate tectonics). Hess invited Bruce to his department to write his doctoral thesis.
Later, Dr. Campbell connected Bruce with Dr. William (Wild Bill) Taubenek from Oregon State University. Taubenek was studying the igneous rock in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeastern Oregon and he was seeking another geologist to map and study the metamorphic rock there. During the next ten years, Bruce mapped the geology of the northern Wallowa Mountains from spring snow melt to fall snows. He dearly loved the Wallowas. A visiting Smithsonian geologist, studying a Marine Triassic site on Hurricane Creek told him, “One day you will have to leave this beautiful place.” Bruce did, but never permanently, always returning to study, to share with students, to retire.
After completing his Wallowa studies, Bruce, along with his field notes and typewriter, boarded a train from Portland, Oregon, to Princeton, New Jersey, writing his geology thesis and earning his doctorate. He was hired at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Oregon, the perfect location for a volcanologist and close to his beloved Wallowas.
At COCC, he taught geology, math, and physics for 28 years. In 1986, Bruce was awarded the first Faculty Achievement Award for Teaching Excellence. The administration provided him with the resources to take his students from the classroom and lab to field studies. Bruce wanted his students to not just absorb information but to think about what they were learning and viewing. His knowledge, wit, energy and enthusiasm inspired countless students. Oregon was his classroom, often on roads and trails less traveled.
Bruce was appointed by Governor Tom McCall to the Natural Area Preserves Advisory Committee. From his family cabin at Neskowin, Bruce understood the specialness of the Oregon Coast, and completed coastal geology work that helped McCall and Oregonians preserve “free and uninterrupted use of the beaches.” Additionally, Bruce served as a representative to the Advisory Committee for the Oregon State Board of Education, effectively going before the legislature on behalf of community colleges.
During summers, Bruce continued field work, most notably with Tom Simkin on Fernandina Volcano in the Galapagos Islands. He taught field courses in the Wallowa mountains (which still have students talking about backpacking steep ridges, camping in nearly inaccessible basins, and mapping remote exposures), and in southeast Oregon (from Malheur Field Station).
A few of his non-degree field trips for the public — before and after retirement — included Scotland, Grand Canyon, Hawaii volcanoes, the coasts (San Francisco to Puget Sound), eastern Washington scablands, Columbia River, Steens Mountain.
Bruce was a gentle, articulate, kind, modest man of great charm and wit who lived simply. He possessed a loving heart and staggering intelligence. He enjoyed meeting people and learning about their history, interests, ideas, opinions and teaching provided that interaction. Those he inspired are legion.
Before arriving in Bend at COCC, Bruce married Penny Jane Powell. They raised daughters, Maria and Sarah. Bruce was preceded in death by Penny Jane and sister-in-law, Donna Nolf. Survivors include his daughters, Maria Prince of Eugene, Oregon, and Sarah Nolf of Santa Fe, New Mexico; his brother, Richard Nolf of St. Joseph, Missouri; granddaughters, Morgan Kemper, Emma Prince, and Nakaya Church all of Eugene, Oregon; one great-grandson, Owen; numerous nephews and nieces; and his partner for the last 20 plus years, Gerry Zastrow of Cove, Oregon.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions to the Central Oregon Community College Foundation scholarship program, 2600 NW College Way, Bend, OR, 97703 or the charity of your choice would be sincerely appreciated.
On a personal note - I worked with Bruce for many years - he was a kind man, supportive of his co-workers, an advocate for his students successes. He will be deeply missed.
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