Robert Morris Crisler

1921 - 2013

Bob Crisler, a regional geographer who spent much of his career at University of Louisiana-Lafayette, passed away on March 23, 2013, aged 92.

Robert Morris Crisler was born on January 5, 1921 in Columbia, Missouri. Although his father was a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Missouri, he seems to have developed an early fascination for regional geography. A childhood friend remembered how, by the time he was in grade school, he could name every town on Highway 40 from St. Louis to Kansas City and state how far apart they were.

After attending Hickman High School, Crisler gained a place at the University of Missouri, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in geology in 1941. He then moved to graduate school at Northwestern University in Illinois but was subsequently drafted into the army after America became involved in World War II.

He served with the 88th Division in North Africa and in the Italian campaign. He left the military in February 1946 as a first lieutenant, having received a Purple Heart after he was shot in the arm and an oak leaf when shrapnel injured his back.

Crisler returned to Northwestern to complete his master’s degree (1947) and doctorate (1949) in geography. His thesis was entitled “An Experiment in Regional Delimitation: the Little Dixie Region of Missouri,” which looked at the geopolitics of that region of Missouri. Many sources credit him for coining and fully defining the term ‘Little Dixie.’

His first teaching assignment was at Washington University in St. Louis, starting in 1948, until he was recalled to the military during the Korean conflict. He was assigned to the Pentagon and worked for the CIA as an intelligence officer.

After discharge in 1952, he returned to teach at Washington University until 1954 when he moved to Southwestern Louisiana Institute and University of Southwestern Louisiana (now known as University of Louisiana-Lafayette) where he stayed until retirement. He was a professor of geography and served as head of the department of social studies. During this period he also served as a Louisiana state representative from 1972 to 1976 for District 45.

Crisler stayed in Lafayette for the remainder of his life. He was involved various local organizations including the Louisiana Retired Teachers Association, American Legion Post 69, Pinhook Rotary Club, Louisiana Historical Association, and First Lutheran Church in Lafayette. He was also involved in SCORE, counseling new business owners. In addition, he was a member of Mizzou Alumni Association, the Geological Sciences Alumni of the University of Missouri, and The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

It was for a particular hobby, though, that Crisler was noted. Throughout his life he was an avid collector of license plates. His son, Charles, reminisced about how the interest first developed: “Some people look at license plates when they drive and play games with them. Well, we decided we’d get one from each state. And then we wanted to get one from each year.” Together they amassed 3,000 license plates at one point. He was a member of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, attending meets and conventions all around the country and serving the club in many capacities, including several years as its president.

Crisler was predeceased by his first wife, Shirley Spohn, who passed away in 1978, and by his second wife, Freda Glenn Erickson, who passed away in 2012. He is survived by two sons, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.