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Evan Just, former mineral sciences professor, dead at 97
Evan Just, professor emeritus and former head of the Department of Mineral Sciences at Stanford, died at his home in Menlo Park on Jan. 22 of congestive heart failure. He was 97.
An influential figure in mining and petroleum engineering before he joined the Stanford faculty in 1959, Just was known for his straightforward honesty and his humility, colleagues say. In addition to work in petroleum and mining exploration, he served as director of the Strategic Materials Division for the post-World War II Marshall Plan, and served for a decade as editor-in-chief of Engineering and Mining Journal, one of the industry's oldest and most influential publications.
Just was born in Chicago on Sept. 18, 1900, the son of Nober and Selma Gottlieb-Just. His father was a Danish-born tea merchant who took the 12-year-old Evan along on one of his annual business trips to pre-Westernized Japan. Just earned his bachelor's degree in geology from Northwestern University in 1922, his master's from the University of Wisconsin in 1925 and an honorary doctorate from the Montana School of Mines in 1954. In his twenties, he served as geologist for midwestern oil and minerals companies, with time off for bauxite exploration in post-revolutionary Russia and an investigation of emerald deposits in Brazil. He was briefly drawn into academe teaching at Lehigh University and the New Mexico School of Mines before returning to industry, first as an oil company geologist, then as executive secretary of a mining trade association. He was editor of Engineering and Mining Journal from 1942 to 1952 and subsequently served as exploration vice president of Cyprus Mines Corp.
As an editor and industry representative, Just held the mining industry to high standards. In awarding him the degree of Doctor of Engineering, the Montana School of Mines honored him for encouraging the industry worldwide "to adopt the best technical methods, to improve its public and industrial relations, and to adopt more aggressive and progressive programs of search for mineral deposits." In 1989, when he recorded an oral history for the Bancroft Library, Just expressed pride in programs to protect miners from silicosis. He was actively interested in pollution problems related to minerals and petroleum.
He also campaigned for management training for mining engineers and technical personnel. At Stanford, he arranged for graduate degree candidates in mineral engineering to take classes in the Graduate School of Business. Under his leadership, Stanford developed a curriculum in mineral economics, combining the science and engineering necessary to find minerals with study of the economic and political factors that would make them feasible to produce. "That course was the reason I came back to Stanford for an Engineer of Mines degree," said Noel Kirshenbaum (B.S. '56, M.S. '57, E.M. '68), who wrote his graduate thesis under Just's guidance and became a life-long friend.
Just was recruited to Stanford in 1959 after a nationwide search, specifically to build a department of mineral engineering; when his appointment was announced, letters from top executives at nearly a dozen major mining companies praised Dean Charles Park for the choice. "For a while, we were a department of two," recalled George Parks, who joined the faculty the same year as assistant professor. By the time Just took emeritus status in 1966, the department had only three faculty, but the number of students enrolled each year had grown from four to almost 20. Just continued to reach courses throughout the 1970s and remained active as a consultant to industry for many years.
Parks recalled Just as "a wonderful mentor, for young faculty as well as students." Kirshenbaum said friends have speculated that one reason Just lived so long was that he never got irritated at people or situations. "The thing that shone through all the time was his absolute honesty. He spoke his mind even if what he said was controversial," Kirshenbaum said.
Just is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Harry Penhasi of Nevada City, Calif.; grandchildren Toni Bedal of San Jose, Mimi Meyer of Menlo Park and Evan Penhasi of San Francisco; and great-grandson Drew Bedal.
Karen Penhasi recalled her father as a modest man who refused a long list of honors and prizes offered to him; he only agreed to be interviewed for his oral history when Kirshenbaum's wife, Sandra, persuaded him that it was historians' task and not his own to decide if his recollections of 20th-century mining history were worth recording. One story that does not appear in the oral history occurred when Just was a student and competitive swimmer at Northwestern: He swam under the ice of frozen Lake Michigan to reach a boy who had fallen into the water. A newspaper report recounts that Just nearly died in the attempt, but he only said, "It was nothing. I'm only sorry I found the lad too late."
"That was my father that humility," Penhasi said.
Memorial services for Just will be private. Penhasi said that flowers or donations would have embarrassed her father; however, if friends do wish to make donations in his memory, she suggested the Mid-Peninsula Hospice, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif.
By Janet Basu