Lauren Chester Post

1899 - 1977

Lauren Post was born on his father’s farm a few miles west of the town of Rayne, Louisiana.  His father was William Whitfield Post from Bay St. Louis, MS, and his mother was Harriet Raines Davis, a “mail-order bride” from up-state New York.  His father homesteaded on the prairies of SW Louisiana, immediately next to his uncle, B. K. Whitfield.  These two families were the only English-speakers in the area (though the children eventually also spoke French).  He described himself as an Anglo living in a “sea of Cajuns.”  Living as an outsider allowed him to recognize the uniqueness of the larger culture, and became the topic of his doctoral dissertation.

Lauren joined the Navy during WWI and served as a radio electrician on the USS Whipple (DD-15, a torpedo boat destroyer), stationed off the coast of France.  Upon discharge, he moved to California, worked for two years at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, and then enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley.  He quickly came under the influence of Prof. Carl Sauer.  In 1931 he completed his M.A. thesis, “The Spokane Valley: a study in Regional Geography,” and then in 1936 his dissertation, “The Cultural Geography of the Prairies of Southwest Louisiana,” both under the direction of Dr. Sauer.  Upon completion of his dissertation, Lauren accepted a position at San Diego State College, and remained there for the rest of his career (1937-1969), retiring at age 70.

During WWII, much of his teaching was aimed at helping in the war effort.  He taught map-reading skills, and climatology and atmospheric science to young aviators.  He taught many students, and began a correspondence with them.  Soon he was writing “The Aztec News Letter,” and sending them to former students who were now in uniform (by the end of the war to 3000 Aztecs).  In these monthly newsletters, he encouraged the ex-students to write to him, and in great numbers they responded, beginning with the salutation, “Dear Doc,” and then describing their adventures in training, combat, and the like.  Some went so far as to send memorabilia, such as Nazi flags, sand from Iwo Jima, and the like.  Others wrote from POW camps telling of other Aztecs.  He always tried to pass news on to family members through phone calls and letters.  He had help (fraternity members, typing classes, volunteers, etc.) in excerpting the letters, raising money for stamps, and working on the newsletter.  Following strict government instructions, he carefully censured anything that might help the enemy should the newsletter fall into enemy hands (some obviously did, as he received letters from German POW camps).  Lauren continued sending newsletters until March, 1946, at which time he had mailed 48 issues.   For years afterward, former servicemen and women would drop by his office to thank him for keeping them in contact with others, and for offering support and encouragement from the home front.  It meant a great deal to them, and to Lauren, who described some of these meetings, often between complete strangers, as “very emotional.”  A book based on these newsletters, titled No Forgotten Fronts: From Classrooms to Combat, authored by Lisa Shapiro, will be published by Naval Institute Press in April, 2018.

Lauren’s major research interests and publications were on Cajuns, cattle, and California.  His interests were very broad however, and he published on many esoteric topics (such as bees, Red River carts, music, and Molokan Russians).  He is best remembered for his book Cajun Sketches (which won the Louisiana Library Association’s literary award for 1962), as well as an edited book, Louisiana as it is.  A listing of his publications can be found in The California Geographer, Vol. 16 (1976), pp. 85-88.

Dr. Post was considered an excellent and inspiring teacher, and highly respected by his students.  Lauren was particularly well-known for a ten-day summer field course in a bus touring California (he was always proud of how it went, and all that the students learned about the state).  Dr. Post was always concerned with the teaching of geography in California.  As a result, he was one of the founders of the California Council for Geographic Education, was president for a year, and was the first editor of the newsletter that was to grow into The California Geographer.

Lauren married Valeria Postnikova (1903-1993).  She was born in Russia, the daughter of a Colonel in Czar Nicholas II’s balloon corps.  During the Russian revolution, the family fled from Vladivostok, and settled in California.  Valeria and Lauren met at Berkeley, where she graduated in Chemistry.  She later became very involved in singing, and opera in general, in both San Francisco and San Diego. They were married 49 years, and had no children.

—Malcolm Comeaux