David Hornbeck

- 2020

On Earth Day, 2020, COVID-19 claimed the life of Dr. David Hornbeck, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography, California State University, Northridge. David led a full and productive life, ranging from two hitches in the Air Force from 1958 to 1966, earning his B.A. and M.A. in geography at what is now called California State University, Fresno (1968 and 1969, respectively) and his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in 1972. In 1972, he began his career in the Department of Geography at San Fernando Valley State College, now California State University, Northridge. He retired in 2009.

Dominating the majority of his work, David’s passion was historical geography, especially of California during the mission and rancho periods and during the early establishment of the American agricultural and urban landscapes on the underlying Native Californian, Spanish, and Mexican cultural landscapes. He had a particular interest in the impacts of Spanish colonial expansion on the Native Californians and their fate in the mission system, meticulously reconstructing their demographics through mission archives in California and Mexico. He worked out the details of the economics of the mission, pueblo, and presidio systems in the context of the global trade and politics of the day. He was fascinated by the privatization of lands in California by the newly independent Mexico, which eventually led to the expropriation of the mission holdings to support that purpose. Privatization required petitioners for a land grant to map their proposed properties, submitting diseños as part of the petition. These petitions and diseños became part of the process by which Mexican ranchero families defended their claims to the American Board of Land Commissioners after 1848 (79% of them successfully, though the legal expenses typically led to sale or subdivision of the adjudicated holdings). David was interested also in the development of the distinctive California agricultural system and how the California urban system still bears the marks of the preceding Spanish and Mexican settlement systems. David loved the intense archival work historical geography required and, indeed, built up quite a collection of original materials that now comprise the Hornbeck Collection at the Monterey County Historical Society.

A second compelling interest David pursued was business GIS. His earliest work in this area was in grant and contract work in business location analysis and market area analysis, first for restaurants and then for banks. By 1984, he had begun to build and license fieldwork-based GIS systems for banks’ branch analysis, market area analysis, network analysis, and merger and acquisition needs. The LandBank GIS became so popular with major banks across the country that David and his wife, Ginny, founded Area Location Systems, Inc., to develop, market, and service it and train bank staff in its use. As a result of this work, banks became among the first corporations truly to understand what it was geographers do and to seek out geographers for their own marketing and IT staffs! David and Ginny eventually sold their shares in the company by the late-1990s, Ginny moving into special education and David continuing to do consulting and workshops for the banking industry, law firms, and water agencies until he entered the Faculty Early Retirement Program in 2002.

As a university faculty member, David devoted a lot of his time and energy to his students, many of whom remembered him fondly as a vivid and caring character and remained in contact with him long after their graduations. Indeed, the root of his interest in applied economic geography and business GIS was originally his desire to help his students develop rewarding careers using their geographic education. He served as the career advisor in his department and organized sixteen annual jobs symposia for geography students. Some of his publications were explicitly devoted to geographic education and to how faculty could cultivate both applied and academic dimensions in their work to mentor their students.  Many of the “Hornbeck School of Thought” (or “Hornbeck University of Geography”) went on for Ph.D.s themselves or entered highly successful careers in banking, environmental consulting, information technology companies, education, or government. Typical of David was an insight he shared shortly before retiring. He noted that academics often deeply enjoy teaching and mentoring the “A list” students who will go on to graduate school but sometimes tend to overlook the C students in the middle of the class curve. Many of these kids are much brighter than their GPAs suggest but are either too overworked, engulfed in personal problems, or immature to do well while they are students. But they are still taking it all in and, then, he said, they “grow into their educations” a few years later. Their geographic education all comes together for them in the context of their careers, which then take off. He commented that it’s the “C” students who seem to go on into six figure salaries and highly placed jobs, not the “A” students who go on to graduate school and academic penury!

David’s tragic encounter with COVID-19 leaves behind a large cadre of students, colleagues, business associates, and friends who mourn his loss and wish to comfort his wife of forty years, Ginny; his siblings, Arlene Suart (Sutter Creek, CA) and Claro Cabading (Honolulu); his sons, David, Christopher, and Brian; his grandchildren, Ashton, Vincent, and Robin. A webpage commemorating his life has been set up where there are links to his curriculum vitae, the Hornbeck Collection, his retirement “roast” materials, and examples from David’s little known pastime, flower photography.  A full obituary will also be posted there.

Donations will be gratefully received to support the Monterey County Historical Society that physically houses his collection (https://mchsmuseum.com/salinas/). Many thanks to Mr. Patrick J. “Mike” Maloney and Ms. Miriam Infinger, Research Associate, of the Law Offices of Patrick J. Maloney (Alameda, CA); Mr. James Perry of the MCHS; and Dr. Rubén G. Mendoza, Chair of the Department of Social, Behavioral, and Global Studies, and Ms. Jennifer A. Lucico, M.A., Lecturer, Department of Social, Behavioral, and Global Studies, California State University, Monterey Bay, for their years of work getting this collection assessed and physically moved to the Museum, for creating its digital portal, and for getting it all catalogued on WorldCat.

Very sadly yours,

Chrys Rodrigue
Dave’s second graduate student and friend of 48 years