Kees A. DeJong - A Tribute by David B. Nash


Kees DeJong was a progressive; he was not even embarrassed to be tagged with the “L word.”  I don’t mean that Kees’s politics were left leaning, although they most certainly were, but rather that he was unconstrained by “past practice” and was invariably eager to rethink how just about anything had been done in the past.  This welcoming of every opportunity to re-examine past modus was occasionally irritating but invariably stimulating and helped our department to evolve.  There are many slogans bandied about extolling the necessity for embracing change. In reality, however, change is difficult and uncomfortable.  Kees welcomed any opportunity to innovate.  In point of fact, many if not most “past practices” have evolved and been shaped by necessity and are the way they are for good reason.  Just as most organic mutations are failures, many of Kees’s innovations failed… but many didn’t.  Kees’s innovations extended from procedural to pedagogical.  His tenure as director of graduate studies was a somewhat chaotic time because Kees was not a “detail person” and the position demands a great deal of monitoring of deadlines and procedures.  Nonetheless, Kees instituted some lasting changes including the formalization of our procedure for applying and dispensing the department’s small (~$200) grant to graduate students for their research, resulting in these funds being more available and used by virtually all graduate students.

Kees’s innovations in teaching were numerous.  He encouraged his colleagues to include  long field trips in their courses.  Those long but invaluable trips were costly both financially and temporally, but two or more faculty members cooperating and combining class trips reduced costs, increased content and mitigated the effects of missed classes.  This cooperation on trips to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Virginia, Kentucky, etc. fostered interdisciplinary communication and synergy between faculty and students alike.

Kees immediately recognized the enormous potential of space-based imagery of Earth, particularly in the geologic exploration of Pakistan.  His long-standing interest in gravity tectonics, and orogeny in general, culminated in a large NSF-funded mapping project in Pakistan.  He worked with the Pakistani geologic survey to produce a geologic atlas of the country based on Landsat imagery.  That imagery allowed the recognition and mapping of heretofore unknown and inaccessible structural features.  He was working on the galley proofs of his geologic atlas of Pakistan when the Bhutto government was overthrown and the project was stopped by the Zia regime.  Although Kees’s research in Pakistan resulted in a book and several articles, there is no doubt that he was greatly discouraged by the failure to produce the atlas.  It was a major setback to his research.

Kees embraced the Internet and quickly incorporated web-based content into his courses.  He was the first in our department and may have been one of the first anywhere to realize the enormous potential that Google Earth™ had for teaching earth science.  He purchased the URL (no longer owned by him) and planned to construct a website cataloging particularly good examples of various geologic features and providing Google Earth™ based exercises for students.   He asked me to contribute an exercise of my choice.  Students in my geomorphology courses will remember my discussing the Saidmarreh slide in Iran when we looked at Hsü’s treatment of sturzstroms.  Te literature about the slide is dated and sparse.  With Kees’s help, I found the slide (see my notation at … be sure to realize the scale of the feature you’re viewing) and wrote an exercise in which students made measurements of the slide measuring it’s volume and travel distance and calculating its speed and coefficient of friction.   I was much indebted to Kees for opening my eyes to the potential of this unique resource. His deteriorating health prevented him from bringing his innovative vision to fruition but, at least for a while longer, a glimpse of what he had in mind may be viewed at  Google Earth™ is now widely used in many geology courses and texts (Marshak’s Earth: Portrait of a Planet,, an introductory text Kees particularly liked, makes effective use of Google Earth™). 

Kees’s use of the Internet did not stop at the use of Google Earth.  He also had the creative idea of requiring all of his student’s reports be prepared and presented on the web.  Doing so introduced many if not most of his students to the preparation of content for the web and made that content available to a wide audience.  This innovative use of the web was invaluable to students who were receptive to it and saw the potential.  It was, however, too much of a stretch for others (although the time will soon come when this innovation will be “standard practice”).  Kees put his web skills to use in other ways as well.  He started a website for the Prostate Cancer Networking Group in Cincinnati which is widely linked to by sites around the world.  He was actively working on it right up to the time of his death.  With his passing, unfortunately, the site is no longer particularly active.  An archive of the site is available at (

Kees was a pacifist.  Although the value and viability of the concept may be debated (but certainly not here), Kees believed and espoused pacifism, which was (and is) widely unpopular in Cincinnati.  Kees publically protested wars from Vietnam to Iraq and bore the near-universal criticism of his pacifism philosophically.  Unlike many “closet liberals” he was ready and willing to debate the virtues of pacifism with anybody and was willing to “take his lumps” for his beliefs.  Kees’s family hid Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.   That experience may have formed his willingness to sacrifice for his beliefs and to do “the right thing” even if it threatened his safety and comfort.  Whether you agreed with his views on pacifism, you had to respect his commitment to it.

Kees was, above all, an optimist.  He steadfastly refused to believe that what others viewed as misfortunes were entirely bad.  He was fond of alluding to the 塞翁失馬 story and had someone make a scroll of it, which he posted on his office wall.  The story goes that..

Sāi Wēng lived on the border and he raised horses for a living. One day he lost a horse and his neighbor felt sorry for him, but Sāi Wēng didn’t care about the horse, because he thought it wasn’t a bad thing to lose a horse. After a while the horse returned with another beautiful horse, and the neighbor congratulated him on his good luck. But Sāi Wēng thought that maybe it wasn’t a good thing to have this new horse.

His son liked the new horse a lot and often took it riding. One day his son fell off the horse and broke his leg. Because of his broken leg, he couldn’t go off to the war, as was expected of all the young men in the area. Most of them died.


This unfailing optimism remained with him to the end and included his twelve-year battle with prostate cancer.  He would point out that his cancer had brought him closer to his family and to others.  After his diagnosis Kees decided he would become better acquainted with his grown sons and they with him.  He decided to separately take each son on a trip anywhere in the world he wanted to go.  With Mark he went to Argentina, with Remco he went to Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest, with Robbert he went to Tanzania, and with Onno he went to the Netherlands.  He took his entire extended family (sons, spouses, and their children and step-children) on yearly family summer vacations from Alaskan cruises to stays on houseboats on Lake Cumberland.  He said that his cancer had introduced him to one of the most interesting and supportive communities he had ever been in: the Cincinnati cancer wellness group.  He found the entire subject of cancer fascinating and studied it avidly.  He actively participated in his own treatment and, true to form, did it innovatively.  He studied web-based cancer resources and, against his doctor’s advice, embarked on a course of treatment he designed.  He was told that, with his stats (PSA doubling time of less than a month and Gleason score of 8), 90% of his cohort would die within 2 years, regardless of treatment.  His doctor recommended an immediate radical prostatectomy.  Instead, he embarked on a course of intermittent hormone therapy.  Who knows if this decision prolonged his life for another active and productive twelve years.  There can be no doubt, however, that he enjoyed studying his disease, participating in his own treatment, and interacting with the people he met as a result of it.

Kees had a deep and abiding belief in human potential and the necessity for being actively involved in promoting the welfare of others.  Twenty years ago he met and was greatly influenced by the late Rev. Maurice McCracken.  McCracken, depending on your point of view, was either a radical gadfly or the social and ethical conscience of Cincinnati.  He was pastor of the Community Church on Dayton Street in Over the Rhine.  He was often jailed for his pacifist activities and his advocacy for the poor and homeless.  Kees took McCracken as his mentor, became a member of his congregation, and worked with him on many of his projects.  Kees became particularly involved with a project to help poor families have some financial stake (and thus some sense of ownership and community) in their home.  He also was an active member of Justice Watch, an advocacy group for those in the justice system.  He also worked with McCracken to protest what they saw as unfair labor practices.  McCracken was fond of saying that “…Jesus came, not to make us feel good, but to make us do good.”  Kees took that very much to heart and tried his best to do good.

Kees was a good friend and was always the first to offer a helping hand in difficult situations or to offer his congratulations on successes.  As he pointed out, he was a “Dutch uncle” to many, particularly his students.  If a student of his was not performing as well as Kees thought he or she was capable, Kees did not hesitate to bluntly encourage them towards putting more effort into their work.  Although many of his students were affronted by his bluntness, it was always done without malice and for the student’s benefit.  Kees kept a record of his colleagues’ birthdays and always congratulated them on the day.  When brush needed to be cleared, Kees immediately offered the services of himself and his chain saw.  He was also willing and eager to volunteer his rototiller and himself during spring planting (I am particularly missing him this Spring).  Several years ago, I burned down my back porch (don’t ask how).  Kees immediately encouraged me to rebuild it and spent a weekend helping me.  Every time I use the deck, I remember how much I enjoyed working with him on it and what a good job he did.

On so many levels our department, university, and community will miss Kees and his many contributions.  We have all benefitted and will cherish his time with us.