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The Faithful – Jan Van Sant
Michelle Strickland
ROCK-SOLID SERVICE: Jan Van Sant received the Geology Associates Advisory Board Honorary Life Member award in 2020 to recognize his years of leadership and dedication.
Generous to the Core

Jan van Sant’s life has been formed, like rocks over time, by a stream of relationships and experiences that shaped his interests in geology, education and philanthropy.

The Wisconsin native was born into a generous family, literally: His grandfather, a dentist, was named Generous Van Sant.

“He taught us to be generous when we got to the point we could help people,” Van Sant said. “That carried over to my father, and I got it from him.”
Van Sant, who received his master’s and doctorate degrees in geology from KU in 1958 and 1963 respectively, translated his generous spirit into deed when he established the Jan and Mary Van Sant Geology Excellence Award fund in 1994. The annual award, named for him and his late wife, is open to faculty, staff and students.

His foundation as a geologist began in high school, when he took a physical geography class. While learning about glaciers and streams, he realized he was interested in the geosciences.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, he arrived at KU to study with renowned geologist and paleontologist Raymond Moore. Moore was the first editor of the ongoing multivolume work Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Contributors have included the world’s specialists in the field, and Van Sant worked on the project while earning his doctorate.

Van Sant’s business experiences with ExxonMobil and Penzoil led him to posts from Tulsa to Bordeaux, France, then to Houston, where he now lives. After retiring, he became the executive director of the American Geological Institute Foundation, raising more than $20 million for their educational programs. During that time, he also served on geology advisory boards for several universities. He spoke frequently to student groups and encouraged philanthropy.

“I stressed the point that when they became successful as geologists, they should consider giving back to the place where they learned,” Van Sant said.
He was a loyal and active member of the KU Geology Associates Advisory Board and was skilled in advising department chairs in best practices for fundraising and leadership. The board made him an honorary life member in 2020, and Bob Goldstein, past chair of KU Geology, praised Van Sant’s patient instruction.

Van Sant continues to advocate for science, education and giving, showing with patience, comes the formation of great things.

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