The Pointe

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Monroe Hometown Hero Lawrence Warner assists Admiral Richard Byrd on 1939 South Pole expedition


It’s seems implausible that changing one’s college major could generate a prominent place in world history and the annals of science.

But that’s what happened after Monroe, Ohio, native Lawrence A. Warner changed his major to earth sciences while attending Miami University (1).

A member of Monroe’s illustrious Warner family, Lawrence became a world-renowned geologist who “won a place in history by going to the South Pole in 1939 with Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the greatest explorer of the twentieth century.” That famous expedition led to the discovery of the southern limits of the Pacific Ocean.” (2)

The son of Clarence and Mary (Wones) Warner (3) originally set out to be an English major at Miami. But -- as fate would have it -- he was assigned a job “as a student helper for the young geology professor Bennett T. Sandefur” and soon became “captivated by earth science, which became his principal field.”(1)

He “received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami in 1937. That summer, working alone with improvised mapping methods, he completed his first geological study: a report on the geology of Versailles State Park in southeastern Indiana.” (1) Little did he know that one day his work would take him much farther away.

While working in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado Warner learned he’d been appointed as a geologist with the third U.S. Antarctic Expedition being organized by eminent explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd. “Working from Little America [the explorers’ base of operations]..., he and his colleagues evaluated much previously unexplored Antarctic terrain during the austral [southern] summers of 1939-1940 and 1940-1941.” (1)


In a written record of her memories of family life in Monroe, Warner’s mother recalled that upon learning of her son’s participation in the faraway expedition she became “upset” thinking she would not be able to hear from him. Fortunately, short-wave radio took care of that concern. (4)

In 1942 Warner received his doctorate in geology from Johns Hopkins University. He then “worked with the Alaskan Branch of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1942 to 1946, carrying on pioneering studies of geology and mineral resources in southern Alaska, and on Alaska’s Arctic slope. His field work in Earth’s two polar regions was recognized in 1946” with the Congressional Medal for Science and Exploration.” (1)

After “withdrawing from the U.S. Geological Survey in the fall of 1946,” Warner began a “distinguished career as a faculty member in the Department of Geology and Geography at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There his remarkably broad scientific skills led him, over the years, into teaching … [that] was distinguished for thoroughness combined with friendliness and human understanding.’ (1)

Even during his academic career, Warner conducted geological research, including for an Air Force project in Arctic Alaska. He also served as a consultant on water supply and water-related construction for the city of Denver (1).

Upon his death in 1991, Warner was “remembered as a courteous gentleman who was always quietly doing kind services” [for others]…The humanity he conveyed to those who knew him must be reckoned along with his scientific and educational work as a precious heritage.” (1)

Warner was survived by his wife, son and daughter. (1)

The Monroe Historical Society is preserving the memory of Lawrence A. Warner and other distinguished natives/residents for future generations. In addition to featuring Warner in its 2016 history book, the group possesses personal artifacts of its famous native son-geologist-professor.

The society is located at 10 East Elm Street.

(1)“Memorial to Lawrence A. Warner 1914-1991” by Bruce F. Curtis of Boulder, Colorado, The Geological Society of America:

(2)”Firmly Founded...Proudly Growing - Monroe, Ohio” by the Monroe Historical Society, Dorothy Smith and Anna Hale, editors, Published in 2016 by The Donning Company Publishers. (Available at MidPointe Library).

(3) “Monroe, A Developing City” by George Crout. Published in 1992 and printed by the Letterman Printing, Inc., of Oxford, Ohio.

(4) Typewritten recording of interview given by Mary Warner (then a resident at Mount Pleasant Home in Monroe) June 1, 1976. Provided by the Monroe Historical Society.

Special appreciation is given to Dorothy Smith, curator of the Monroe Historical Society, for her contributions to the creation of this article.