Ode to Kit Salter

Kit Salter in London

Friends and Colleagues Share Memories of Geography’s Treasured Professor Emeritus

When Kit Salter enters the Department of Geography at the University of Missouri, you can’t help but notice him: a friendly smile, a flashy attitude, a generous heart, and vocal passion about geography.

Kit walked the halls of geography from 1988 to 2002, and is still active in the department to this day: visiting, giving gifts, enlightening us with his musings, sharing history…. As professor emeritus and former chair, this geography staple has dedicated decades to making the department better.

Now geography would like to do something for him: reintroduce the Kit Salter Studio, this time from the former bowels of the Stewart Hall basement to the new and modernized second-floor kitchen alcove. It will be a remembrance to Salter and all that he has done with and for the department.

Kit and his wife, Cathy, will soon be moving to California, nearer to family. We welcome geography students/faculty/staff/alumni and all Salter fans to join us in a proper send-off: The Kit Salter Studio Dedication on Monday, March 22, beginning at 4 p.m. via Zoom.


But the fun has already started: In a call for memories, faculty and community members shared notes about what Kit has meant to them or shared musings of his quirky personality.


Kit Salter sharing a moment with contemporary art

Matt Foulkes

Matt Foulkes, associate professor and director of graduate students for geography, says he has many fond memories of Kit. “But two memories stand out as essential Kit,” he said. “Both are associated with the holidays, and specifically, Kit’s love of singing Christmas carols at our end-of-year holiday celebrations.”

Foulkes recalls Kit’s “infectious enthusiasm, his larger-than-life personality, and his ability to bring people together,” explaining in the old Stewart Hall days, right after Kit’s retirement, Kit would show to each end-of-semester holiday party, which at that time where held in the table-lined basement hallway, just outside what was then faculty offices.

“One year, Kit got up and started singing Christmas carols,” Foulkes recalls. “This was not unexpected, as he did this most every year.”

However, on this particular year, he asked students to join him. “But the only ones who took him up on it were an unlikely pair of students: an Iranian-American, clove-smoking Marxist and a strait-laced, outdoorsy ex-Marine.

“The three of them stood together and delivered a robust edition of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ creating a scene that was both absurd, touching, and completely Kit!”

The second memory was at a similar holiday party, sort of. “Kit arrived early and walked the hallway, loudly belting out Christmas carols,” Foulkes recalls. “After a couple of minutes, someone popped out of their office and informed Kit he had the wrong day — the party was scheduled for the next day. And from what I remember, Kit then finished the song he was singing before heading out!”

Kit Salter exploring the streets of Madrid

Doug Hurt

Doug Hurt, assistant teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies in geography, recalls meeting Kit in 1994 — while a new graduate student. “He was the relatively new department chair,” Hurt recalls. “One of my first seminars was with Kit — who at that point, I certainly only referenced as Dr. Salter.

“I remember spending much of the semester overwhelmed, and slightly terrified. As I got to know him better, I was surprised when his imposing, gruff exterior gave way to a kind, generous mentor who had unparalleled passion for geography coupled with an unending willingness to help students discover their paths forward.”

Hurt said many times Kit would drop everything to answer questions, calm Hurt’s nerves about applying for PhD programs, or explain aspects of what it meant to be a productive professional geographer.

“Over time, Dr. Salter became Kit,” Hurt says. “In retrospect, Kit gave me some of the most sage advice I ever received — about geography, about the life of a professor, and more recently fatherhood. I’m fortunate to have known Kit for nearly 30 years. Without Kit’s mentorship, I would not be a professor and would certainly be a lesser person.”

Kit Salter on his 75th birthday

Stephen Heying

Community member Steve Heying remembers meeting Kit years ago one bright, sunny Earth Day, where they had an exchange so memorable it’s as fresh today as it was then.

“This guy (Kit) stops at the Columbia Audubon booth,” Heying recalls, “and unceremoniously introduces himself to me.” Heying, in search of Kit’s answer to an Earth Day question, asked him: “Why is it that humans repeat the same dumb mistakes over and over again?”

He expected a human geography answer, coming from a geographer: Something like farming in unsuitable places of the Earth, putting cities where there was inadequate geographical infrastructure to support them, and so on. But instead, Kit came up with answer, which was actually a question to Heying: “Can you tell me what you had for breakfast last Saturday morning, if you do not have the same thing every morning?”

Heying recalls “It was the perfect answer! He made me think harder than he had to. His way!

“Since that day at Earth Day, Kit has made many of us think very hard about many things,” Heying says. “My main interface with him, since then, has been through Osher Book talks, writing classes, end-of-the-world studies….

“Gee, I cannot remember all the things he has taught or proctored at Osher,” Heying says. “And the infamous ‘OSayCanYouSee’ mantra to look deeper! More than once course on that!

He recalls because of Kit, the Osher book Talks were better. “The authors he got to come, the knowledge trade, the questions answered — I was famous for asking the questions everyone wanted to know the answers to! He would use me to keep things moving in the discussions. He has encouraged me to write and keep writing, which is important to me. I wish I had gotten a degree from/through him. I would have been better off in life, for sure.”

Kit Salter with Soren Larsen and Bob Boon at Geography's Humboldt event last year

Nick Peckham

Nick Peckham first met Kit after seeing a flyer for a talk at the Museum of Art & Archology in the 1990s titled “Urban Geography,” which, of course, was taught by Kit.

“It sounded interesting, so I went,” Peckham says. “Sure enough, Kit Salter gave an animated and interesting talk on a topic he is quite expert in.”

At presentation’s end, Peckham introduced himself, saying “Dr. Salter, that was a great talk except for one thing: everywhere you used the word ‘geography’ you should have used the word ‘architecture.’

“Since his son, Hayden, is an architect, I know he understood this was a compliment. That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted more than a quarter century. Later he asked me to give a talk in the geography department. Then in turn, I asked him to serve as ‘staff geographer’ for my architecture firm.”

Kit agreed, setting up an office in the basement of Peckham’s building at 15 S 10th Street in Columbia. There Kit wrote and updated his textbook, “Fundamentals of World Regional Geography”, which is used throughout the country.

“I was proud to say that we are the only architecture firm in the USA with a staff geographer,” says Peckham.

The duo also tried their hand at a joint book — Peckham writing one chapter, followed by Kit writing another, and so on.  But they soon learned they had much different writing styles. “Our brains are so different,” Peckham recalls. “It was a disaster.”

Kit and Peckham fast became friends. “Kit and Cathy often invited Diane (Peckham’s wife) and I, and many others, for a meal at Breakfast Creek (Kit and Cathy name their homes),” he recalls. “These gatherings of interesting people, great conversation (and dozens of cats) led to a profound appreciation of one another all around. At one of these gatherings, Kit announced: ‘We are moving to Albuquerque.’ This made no sense to me, so I made a motion for a democratic vote on this matter. It was unanimous: ‘Don’t go!’”

Kit, who had since retired from the department, and Cathy went anyway and a few months later, Peckham and Diane drove to New Mexico to see Kit and Cathy, as well as Peckham’s sister who had lived there for decades.

“We called in advance,” Peckham recalls. “They knew we were coming. Their house was on a double lot and Cathy was working hard on a new and very large garden. But when we arrived, we knew right away something was wrong. We went to dinner at a nearby restaurant where we held a wide-ranging discussion that included comments on this move not being what they had hoped for.”

A few months later, Kit and Cathy decided to move back to Missouri. “’That’s great,’ was my reply. They found Boomerang Creek, a sturdy rustic home with a two-story, three-car garage. The garage building was renovated into a lower-level writing studio/office for Cathy, and an upper-level office for Kit.”

They’ve shared many meals together since. “Most recently, Diane and I went to Boomerang Creek for dinner and to look at the alignment of the planets. During this meal, they announced they are moving to California to a town they have never been in. My jaw dropped. But their logic is sound. They love California, and their daughter lives there, too. So now, to dine with the Salters, the drive increases from 20 to 2,000 miles. A journey worth taking.”

Kit Salter in China

Bob Dulli

Bob Dulli met Kit while working for the National Geographic Society. “Kit was the Pied-Piper of geography education,” Dulli recalls. “Kit created something of a renascence in K-12 geography that had a nationwide effect.

“For a number of years, we brought teachers in from every state for four-week institutes that Kit ran. By the time they left, they were huge advocates for geography in their schools, their Geography Alliances and their states. Kit’s work laid the groundwork for geography’s inclusion in NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), state standards, the National Standards, and an AP exam in human geography.”

Dulli said the teachers Kit worked with were so enthusiastic, the teacher consultants became known as the “Geovangelists.” Most, Dulli said, went on to decades of geography education work in their states.

“Gil Grosvenor, the president and chairman of National Geographic, loved Kit and Cathy. He used to get a kick out of saying that a dinner he had with Kit and Cathy in the late ’80s was great and the wine was especially good, but that dinner cost him about a hundred million dollars. But that investment was way worth it for returning geography to American schools.

“Kit had a way of allowing teachers to find geography in everything they taught,” he adds. “I was so lucky to have worked with him.”

Kit Salter on Route 66

Ruth Miluski

Ruth Miluski says she is only one of Kit’s legion of students in the Osher@Mizzou family of seniors, a lifelong learning institute through MU Extension.

“I am honored to call him a teacher and friend,” she says. “It is important he knows how much he mattered in my life, and no doubt in the lives of my fellow students.

“When I say that Kit Salter transformed the way I perceive the world apart from three feet around me and in my mind, it is not exaggeration. Recalling one of his first admonitions to classes — ‘if you remember anything remember this — I came, I saw, I scratched.’

“That pretty much set the stage for what we were about to experience from this teacher and what followed in the classes ahead,” she recalls. “(It) touched some part of me that announced — ‘you have been missing so much, look up from your book or away from the screen.’

“What Kit did for his class, every day, was to invite us, maybe command us, to look and see landscapes. I learned that for Kit, looking was not necessarily seeing. He introduced us to deep looking. I can almost hear him saying ‘Ruth — pay attention to place, time and change, and to their impact on you and your impact on them.’ Of course, he did not say my name, but it seemed as if he did. And if he did not also add the words ‘listen’ and ‘smell’ — these were still understood as significant features of landscape.”

Miluski recalls Kit’s teaching method: a combination of structure and spontaneity, which she says was sparked by his enthusiasm about his discipline: cultural geography. She says he honored both subject matter and students, and frequently expressed pleasure that senior students were looking at him, and no cell phones.

“We were so eager to learn whatever he taught,” Miluski recalls. “Along with the invitation to look, reflect and remember, Kit threw in something extra for good measure — art, prose, visits with writers and poets. I asked once if music came next. It did when our class sang in an empty Missouri Theatre after viewing that historical place. I believe Kit would find music in landscape and now I do.

“Perhaps it becomes clear the extent to which his students are enchanted by and honor Kit Salter if they were invited to share how they feel when hearing or reading his poem about landscape. I know how I feel. I want to get on with reading and discovering it, while also appreciating the rhythm and flow of the poem.”

Finally, read the landscape as you would read evocative prose.

Discover it to be sometimes incomprehensible

And other times marvelous — but no matter

Your appraisal.  Know forever that the bones

Of the body geographic are most often robed

In the garments of human landscape design and intent.

It is raiment best known to those who seek its intricate

Woof and warp through their own deep looking.

Kit Salter


For more information about the Kit Salter Studio Dedication, contact Debbie at 573-882-8370 or email her at dac7tb@missouri.edu