Salvatore J. Natoli

1930 - 2006

Salvatore J. “Sam” Natoli, age seventy-six, died on July 4 in Oxford, Pennsylvania.

Natoli was a stalwart advocate for geography education and worked for the AAG for eighteen years as Educational Affairs Director, serving also as the Association’s Assistant Executive Director for three years.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, he earned his bachelor degree, with honors, in geography and social sciences from Kutztown University in 1951. Natoli served in the Army from 1951-53 as a personnel management specialist and participated in Army exercises with nuclear weapons at Camp Desert Rock in Nevada in April 1953. He also taught at the high school level in Chesapeake City, Maryland, before becoming a scholar, fellow, and research assistant at Clark University while earning his master’s degree. After completing his geography master’s degree in 1957 he worked was an assistant to the associate professor of geography at Mansfield College in Pennsylvania, and then as a research fellow and visiting lecturer in economic geography at Clark University and as a lecturer in geography at the University College at Clark. In 1966 he was visiting lecturer in economic and political geography at the University of Connecticut. He completed his doctorate in geography at Clark in 1967.

Prior to finishing his PhD, Natoli joined the U.S. Office of Education in 1966. During his tenure at the Office of Education (1966-69) he held the roles of geography consultant, acting chief to the chief of the geography section, acting chief of the economics section, chief of social sciences, deputy chief of the Trainers of Teacher Trainers Program in the Bureau of Educational Personnel Development, and liaison officer for the Consortium of Professional Associations for the Improvement of Teacher Education (CONPASS).

Natoli came to the AAG in 1969 as Educational Affairs Director. During his eighteen year tenure at the Association he worked to improve the status of the discipline at all levels of the educational system. His work ranged from the creation of resource papers and bibliographic materials, to the improvement of teaching in graduate programs, the nurturing of professional development of faculty, and the maintenance of healthy geography programs. He was instrumental in the work of the High School Geography Project (1961-74), the Commission on College Geography (1963-74), the Visiting Geographical Scientist Program, the consortium for teacher education (CONPASS), the Commission on Geography and Afro-America, and the Remote Sensing Project. He chaired the joint committee that developed Guidelines for Geographic Education (1984) and later was coordinator for GENIP, which laid the foundation for the subsequent publication of national standards for geography. His persistent, quiet advocacy and skilled writing laid the foundations for the status that geography achieved in the national education plan formulated during the administration of George Bush, Sr., which culminated in Goals 2000: The Educate America Act, signed by President Clinton on April 1, 1994. He was editor of the AAG Resource Papers series and also took charge of the AAG Newsletter, improving many functions and adding several columns including the Jobs in Geography section in 1971. From 1984-87, Natoli served as Assistant Executive Director of the Association.

Saul Cohen, former AAG Executive Director (1964), said recently of Natoli, “Behind Sam’s quiet and self-effacing manner was a warm, sensitive individual, widely respected and admired by the many who knew him.  Greatly valued were his passionate love of the field, his gift for simplifying complex geographic concepts, and his ability to implement uncharted new programs linking geography to other social sciences.  Once a project was in his hands, one had confidence that Sam would see it through to success.”

From the AAG, Natoli went on to serve as director of publications and editor of Social Education at the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) from 1987-93. Upon his retirement from NCSS in 1993, a special dinner celebrating his contributions to geography was held at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. on January 19, 1994. Despite severe icy weather that closed the federal government, thirty-five colleagues and friends gathered in his honor and messages of appreciation were sent from over seventy well-wishers.

In his retirement, Natoli served as editor in special publications for National Council of Geographic Education (NCGE) and acted as an independent scholar in geography.

Over the course of his career, Natoli was the author of numerous articles and publications and performed many public lectures. He contributed more than ninety publications and was editor of the AAG Resource Papers series, Special Publications at NCGE, and the journal Social Education at NCSS.

Two of his more notable publications include Nurturing Healthy Geography Programs in Colleges and Universities(1982) and Careers in Geography (1983).

Natoli was interviewed by Maynard Weston Dow as part of the Geographers on Film Series in 1985 and 1998. In 1999 he received the AAG’s Gilbert Grosvenor Honors for Geographic Education.  He also received the South Dakota Geographers and Planners’ geography project award (1985), an award from the Geographic Society of Chicago (1985), an award from Kutztown University (1986), the NCGE George J. Miller Award for distinguished service (1987), the NCSS’s distinguished service award as director of publications (1993), and an honorary life membership of the Geographical Society of Chicago (1994).


Salvatore Natoli (Necrology). 2006. AAG Newsletter 41(8): 22.