Bloomer Years

P. Jay Fleisher '61

With initial interest in civil engineering, I signed up for all the appropriate courses, including one that was required, Introduction to Geology. I didn’t know it was taught by one of the most highly respected professors on campus, the legendary Dr. Robert O. Bloomer, chairman of the geology department. 

Revered by men and avoided by women, “Doc” Bloomer’s masculine persona radiated like a beacon. His charming Virginia drawl was as fresh as the day he’d arrived in the North Country 35 years earlier. Warm eyes balanced a rugged face framed by a gray crew cut. A gravelly smoker’s cough rattled when he laughed. When circumstances dictated disapproval, his laser-like glare penetrated and a conspicuous hush followed. There was never a doubt. He was in control. He was the benevolent dictator of academia.    

On that first day of class, he shot an engaging smile to us as he entered Hepburn 38. He briefly organized skimpy notes on the lectern, bade the class “good morning” and launched into what sounded like pure poetry, never once consulting his notes.  

His lectures were mesmerizing: eloquent and thoroughly professorial. In spite of his rugged appearance, his Southern accent conveyed a friendly appeal. Lingering hand gestures and an occasional expletive were added for emphasis. 

The class was riveted. He was a master at communication. He knew his subject, knew his audience, and knew how to keep our attention. No wonder he commanded such respect.  

It was during his lectures that my future was decided. I knew right then and there, I would be a geologist.

As it turned out, his propensity to swear on occasion (but only to bring the subject into the student realm) was what led him to bar women from majoring in geology.  Not because he disliked women or didn’t respect their abilities, but rather because Southern culture frowned on cussing in the presence of a lady, and he didn’t want to embarrass himself or the lady.  Besides, geologists “get dirt under their finger nails,” and that violated his concept of a lady.  So, as department chair, his opinion was policy: women were not allowed to major in geology. Eventually, external pressure prevailed. He adjusted his vocabulary, altered his Southern stereotype, and allowed “coeds” in.

He was a formidable mentor to his majors. From my era, Peter Lessing ’61, Andy Nevin ’61, Uldis Jansons ’61, Norm Smith ’62 and I were among the significant number to go on to earn Ph.Ds. We would concur—Bloomer was the quintessential professor.

Later, as a relatively new assistant professor of geology at SUNY Oneonta, I reported to Doc Bloomer with enthusiastic pride the things I hoped to accomplish. With characteristic candor and solemn honesty, he drew close, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Don’t you tell me what you’re gonna do, boy! You tell me what you’ve done!” With that I knew his expectations were indisputable. I credit Doc Bloomer for launching me on my career and remaining my mentor through 40 years of college teaching.

“Flogger” Fleisher is distinguished teaching professor emeritus at SUNY Oneonta, having retired in 2007. He continues to conduct research in cold-weather environments. Chapin Professor Bloomer taught at St. Lawrence in 1944 and from 1948 until retiring in 1972. He died in 2004.