Obit: Geography professor, Jim Merchant, 67

Jim Merchant, professor of geography, died Feb. 27. He was 67.
Jim Merchant, professor of geography, died Feb. 27. He was 67.

James "Jim" W. Merchant, Jr., professor of geography, died Feb. 27. He was 67. Among his survivors are wife, Loyola Caron; son, Karl; daughter, Anne; siblings, Rob Merchant, Wes Merchant, Betsy Phelps, Cathy Franklin; and eight nieces and nephews.

"Jim loved UNL and the School of Natural Resources," said SNR director John Carroll. "But more importantly, he loved geography and teaching students. When he was getting sick, the thing he was most concerned about were the students in his courses. We have lost a colleague, friend and true academic."

Born Nov. 10, 1947, to James W. and Emely (Wilson) Merchant, Sr., Merchant was a graduate of Towson State University in Towson, Maryland and the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, earning undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees, respectively.

He began his career as a senior remote sensing specialist with the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program at the University of Kansas Space Technology Center. He went on to serve as an assistant professor of geography at the University of Kansas from 1986 to 1989.

In 1989, Merchant moved from Kansas to Nebraska to accept a position as associate director of UNL's Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies (CALMIT). The addition of Merchant to the CALMIT team greatly enhanced and broadened the scope of the center's activities. His research in this position focused on land-cover mapping with coarse-resolution satellite data. He went on to serve as director of CALMIT from 2008 to 2011.

In addition to his appointments as a geography professor in SNR and as a research scientist in CALMIT, he held a courtesy professor appointment in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture.

"Jim was thoughtful and articulate in his communications with other scholars and managers, and he worked to stay connected – everyone knew Jim Merchant," said Don Rundquist, emeritus professor and former CALMIT director. "Jim had exceptional skill in dealing with the staff of governmental agencies and he definitely knew how to get things done. He was a major player in the widespread implementation of GIS technology in the state of Nebraska."

Merchant's research and teaching interests focused on applications of remote sensing and GIS in natural resources management and environmental assessment. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in these areas, and also offered an annual professional seminar focusing on research methods and professional development in geography.

Merchant was a member of the Association of American Geographers, an elected fellow of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, and co-founder of the MidAmerica GIS Consortium. Some of his awards include: John Wesley Powell Award from the U.S. Geological Survey (1997), Outstanding Contributions Award from the Nebraska GIS/LIS Association (1999), Career Achievements Award from the MidAmerica GIS Consortium (2004), and Outstanding Service Award from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (2008).

"Jim was a consummate citizen of both the School of Natural Resources and the geography program at UNL," said Paul Hanson, SNR associate director. "He readily volunteered to serve the unit and within the last several weeks was writing portions of SNR's current Academic Program Review document even though he was months away from his June 2015 retirement. On a more personal note, Jim frequently provided me with advice, particularly in the past year and a half, much of which helped me tremendously in my career. Jim will be greatly missed by those in SNR."

A celebration of life will take place at 10:30 a.m., March 6 at Roper and Sons Chapel, 4300 O Street.

In lieu of flowers, individuals are asked to contribute to the University of Nebraska Foundation in Merchant's name. Donations will go toward a forthcoming fund that will provide support to UNL's geography program. Contact Josh Egley, director of development for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, at 402-458-1202 or to make a donation.

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources