Jack A. Simon

1919 to 2005
Fifth Chief; Coal Geology

Jack A. SimonA native of Urbana, Illinois, and a son of immigrants from Russia and Turkey, Simon received his B.A. degree in 1941 and his M.S. degree in 1946 in geology from the University of Illinois. Between those two dates, he served as a lieutenant during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Force as a B-17 navigator, flying twenty-seven missions over Germany between 1944 and 1945. When his plane was shot down, he became a prisoner of war until his internment camp was liberated by his fellow Americans. [Read about Simon's war experiences] Upon his return to Illinois, he resumed work with the Illinois State Geological Survey that he had begun as a student assistant for his next-door neighbor, Dr. Gilbert Cady, specializing in the study of coal. Simon rose steadily through the professional ranks to become Head of the Survey's Coal Section in 1953 following Cady's retirement. In 1967, he was named Principal Geologist and Head of the Geological Group, and he served as Assistant Chief under John Frye from 1973 to 1974.

Simon was named Chief of the Survey in 1974 upon Frye's retirement. By this time, severe budgetary constraints had begun to affect the Survey's programs and staff. To support the Survey's activities, Simon sought to increase the proportion of non-state funds through contracts. He continued Frye's program on environmental geology, expanding studies on the potential for groundwater contamination from coal wastes and from leachates from solid, hazardous, and low-level radioactive waste facilities; additional studies focused on air pollutants from coal combustion. Simon encouraged studies of coal mineral matter and composition. The Clean Air Act of 1963 and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 resulted, for the Survey, in coal sulfur and coal washing studies. As Panel Chairman for the Technical Committee of the Illinois Energy Commission charged with making recommendations concerning a long-range energy program for Illinois, Simon issued a 1977 report on the status of known coal reserves, new and developing technology on coal utilization, coal development impacts, and constraints on mining and utilization of Illinois coals. He observed that sulfur content was a major concern. He noted the need for further research on sulfur removal from coal during its extraction, preparation, and combustion, along with information about and recommendations for coal utilization through coal liquefaction and coal gasification.

Under Simon's leadership, the ISGS hosted the technical sessions of the Ninth International Congress of Carboniferous Stratigraphy and Geology in 1979. This quadrennial meeting, held in the United States for the first time, brought more than 600 scientists from 25 foreign countries to Champaign-Urbana.

In 1980, the Survey staff under Simon's leadership observed the Survey's 75th Anniversary with a symposium, "Perspectives in Geology." At that time, Simon noted the need for new studies applied to the broad spectrum of problems in waste disposal, new geologic criteria for location of oil and gas in the state, and coal conservation, recovery, and productivity. He also recognized the expanding role of geology in land-use planning because of greater needs for land-use planning, mining, and major energy and industrial plant siting. He realized that groundwater availability would also command increased research, and he foresaw major advances in computerization of many kinds of geologic data and their application in research and service.

In 1981, Simon suffered a severe stroke, and, although he made a rapid and remarkable recovery, he retired that year. He was a familiar figure at almost all Survey functions during his retirement years, and he was always greeted warmly by many staff who had worked for him. He was a kind and generous man, but his profound modesty prevented many from understanding the full measure of his service to his community. Simon's influence was national and international through his work, the mentoring of other geologists, teaching, philanthropy, and friendships.

Honored by: 
Harold Gluskoter, Kari Downey Family, James and Kathy Lee, and Ilham Demir
Citation Contributed by: 
Myrna M. Killey
Acknowledgments: 
Memorial information taken, much of it verbatim, from a eulogy by Rabbi Norman Klein and Simon's 1980 abstract for Perspectives in Geology.