Dr. Aureal Theophilus Cross

June 4, 1916December 1, 2013

Dr. Aureal Theophilus Cross East Lansing, Michigan

Born June 4, 1916, in Findlay, Ohio, with, as he often joked, “’theawfulist’ middle name a person could have”. On December 1, 2013, he joined Aleen, his beloved late wife of 65 years, and his Lord, Jesus Christ, in eternal life. It is difficult to encapsulate the activities, events, and adventures of his rich, full, energetic, and varied 97 years. His family is deeply thankful for the love and kindness his caregivers, friends, and church family showered upon him during the last few years of his and Mom’s lives.

Aureal was raised on a dairy farm near Waterloo, Iowa, and developed a work ethic and toughness that was second to none. He could be as prickly as a porcupine on the outside, but he was as soft as a toasted marshmallow on the inside. He went to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on a history and music scholarship, where he was also an accomplished “miler” in track and ran cross-country. Required to take a science course, he enrolled in a geology class—and the course of his life was set. After graduating in 1939, he moved on to the University of Cincinnati where he obtained an MS degree in botany and a dual PhD in Paleontology and Botany. Due to an arm injury caused by a fall from a horse as a child, he was not eligible for military service in WWII. Instead, he supported the war effort by teaching anatomy, genetics, and microscopic tissue analysis to medical school students and medics at the University of Notre Dame. During that time, while doing fieldwork in Pennsylvania, he contracted a severe case of pneumonia and landed in a Pittsburgh hospital where a cute, young nurse helped take care of him. Smitten, he sent flowers, asked her out for a date (she went!), and he and Aleen were married in 1945. After the war, he joined the faculty at the University of Cincinnati. In 1949, he accepted a position as Professor in the West Virginia University Geology Department, where he was also head of the Coal Division of the West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey until 1956. After a five-year stint as Senior Research Supervisor of the Palynological Group at Amoco’s Pan American Oil Corporation Research Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, his desire to teach overcame the need to earn money. In 1961, the family relocated to East Lansing, where Dr. Cross was a Professor of Geology, Botany, Paleobotany and Palynology at Michigan State University until his retirement in 1986. He became a professor emeritus and continued doing research until his death. He was a consummate teacher and had over 30 graduate students who obtained their doctorate degrees through his demanding tutelage. He was active at and became a patriarch of First Presbyterian Church in Lansing where, among many other activities, he was on the session, taught adult and youth education, and led numerous mission trips, mostly to Native American reservations, lecturing and teaching the attendees as they traveled. He led and nurtured Boy Scouts, many of whom obtained Eagle rank. The extent of his professional research is legendary with over 150 published articles and books and countless lectures given at meetings of the various professional organizations to which he belonged. His massive fossil plant and fossil pollen collection, much of it collected from around the world with the assistance of his wife, family, and students, is now housed as the centerpiece of the Paleobotany Collection at The Chicago Field Museum of Natural History and is available for other scientists to study. He received many honors and awards from professional organizations for his teaching, research, and publications. He was devoted to his late wife and traveled the world with her, before becoming her primary caretaker in her last years.

He is survived by his sister, Avalonne; his children: Timothy (Margaret) of McMinnville, Oregon; Christina (Cliff) Collier of Austin, Texas; Jonathan (Nicolette) of Denver, Colorado; Cheryl (Richard) Bowman, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Christopher (Nancy), also of Denver; fourteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be planned for early summer, 2014. Contributions in his name can be made to The Chicago Field Museum Paleobotany Collection; the First Presbyterian Church, Lansing, Michigan; or to the Dr. Aureal T. Cross Fellowship in the Department of Geological Sciences within the College of Natural Sciences, Michigan State University.

The family is being served by Gorsline Runciman Funeral Homes, Lansing Chapel. Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at


  • Memorial Service Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dr. Aureal Theophilus Cross

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Linda & Peter Carrington

December 19, 2013

On behalf of Peter, my husband, we are deeply saddened by the news of Aureal's passing. We deeply loved, and highly regarded Aureal, and he had a profound impact on Peter's life. With Love and Sincere Condolences, Linda Carrington

Dorina (Dorie) Thornton

December 16, 2013

My deepest condolences to the Cross Family on behalf of the Thornton Family. It was a great experience going on the church mission trips with Dr. Cross. He would enlighten us on all the formations we encountered throughout the trip, whether we wanted to know about them or not. He was an amazing man.

Omar Colmenares

December 6, 2013

For those of us who have the unique opportunity to study or work with him, we recognize the noble and outstanding human being Aureal was. He was generous and a role model for those who had the privilege of working with him. We really had the unique opportunity of learning not only how to become a better professional but more importantly, a better human being and person.

On behalf of my wife, I would like to express our deepest condolences to Aureal's family and friends.

Warren Huff

December 5, 2013

On behalf of the students, faculty and staff of the Department of Geology at the University of Cincinnati we express our sincerest condolences to the members of Aureal's family and to all of his MSU colleagues.