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Tom Rabenhorst: a legacy left behind

UMBC remembers an educator, colleague and friend

Tyler Lewis

Contributing Writer

Tom Rabenhorst, a respected UMBC faculty member, passed away earlier this month.

After teaching at UMBC for over forty years, professor Tom Rabenhorst sadly lost his life to brain cancer on Oct. 11, 2014. Rabenhorst had been an instructor for the Department of Geography and Environmental Systems since 1973. He began as a part time instructor before quickly rising to the position of a full time professor. Rabenhorst taught a variety of classes, including physical geography, remote sensing and cartography.

Rabenhorst always took great care to prepare and propel his students to position themselves to receive prestigious, worthwhile jobs in their field after college. Some of Rabenhorst’s students have gone on to work for private companies as well as state and federal agencies. His students are notorious for winning distinguished positions within prominent organizations such as National Geographic.

Graduate student Lindsey Gordon said, “His teaching style married the science side of geography with a lighthearted personal touch that is not often found in a university setting. Needless to say, Tom was one of my favorite professors I’ve had in my academic career.”

Rabenhorst didn’t simply teach the knowledge he possessed, he utilized it to promote positive change in the community. He coauthored two monographs, Applied Cartography and Applied Cartography: Introduction to Remote Sensing.

He served as the cartographic editor for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers for several years. During his time as editor he was recognized for raising the standards of cartographic contributions. He also created various published maps for the Historical U.S County Outline Map Collection.

Rabenhorst’s work wasn’t confined to a desk, however, as he would often hike park trails himself to improve the accuracy of his product. Due to this passionate attention to detail, many of his maps are not only renowned and respected, but used for practical purposes by the public. Around the time of his death, he was working on a text on Severe Storms for the Oxford University Press, along with colleague Jeff Halverson.

With all the positive work Rabenhorst created in his life, it makes perfect sense that he had a positive effect on people as well. Fellow professor Dr. Keith Harries said, “He was always willing to advise colleagues on cartographic questions and many faculty publications were much improved as a result. Apart from being a consummate professional, he was collegial, good humored and generous to a fault. Not the least of his attributes was that he had a very green thumb and grew (amongst other things) some of the most delicious sweet corn you can imagine. Fortunately, he shared.”

Dr. Margaret Holland said, “In the spring of my first year on faculty in the department, he stopped by my office one morning and placed a four leaf clover on my desk. I couldn’t believe he had actually found one, as I have often searched without any luck.  When I asked him how he found this one, his eyes twinkled and he laughed when he said that he finds them all the time. Somehow, knowing Tom, I don’t doubt that he did.”

If one thing is clear about Tom Rabenhorst, it’s that UMBC was a better school in the forty years we had him, and will continue to be in the years ahead due to his perpetual impact on this campus. Rabenhorst inspired and befriended students and teachers alike. He will be incredibly missed.