COLUMBIA — When Robert M. Crisler was in grade school, he could name every town on Highway 40 from St. Louis to Kansas City.
"He could name them and even tell you how far apart they were," remembered his childhood friend in Columbia, Wilber Haseman, 93. "I remember how impressed I was."
Dr. Crisler would go on to become a geography professor and avid license-plate collector.
He is also credited by some with coining the term, "Little Dixie." According to his son, Charles, he included it in his dissertation about the geopolitics of the region.
Dr. Crisler died on Saturday, March 23, 2013, at AMG Specialty Hospital in Lafayette, La. He was 92.
"He was always a happy-go-lucky guy. I never saw him mad at anybody and he always had some joke or something happy to say," Haseman said.
Dr. Crisler was born Jan. 5, 1921, in Columbia to Otto Stanton Crisler, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and Ruby Buckman Crisler.
A 1937 Hickman High School graduate, Dr. Crisler graduated from MU with a degree in geology in 1941.
He began a master's degree program at Northwestern University in Illinois but was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1941. As a member of the Army's 88th Division, he served in the North African Campaign and the Italian Campaign until 1946.
He left the military a 1st lieutenant and received a Purple Heart, after he was shot in the arm, and an oak leaf when shrapnel injured his back.
Following military service, he returned to Northwestern to complete both master's and doctoral degrees in geography. He was recalled to military service in 1950 during the Korean conflict, assigned to the Pentagon. He also worked for the CIA as an intelligence officer.
He returned to St. Louis in 1952 to teach at Washington University.
In 1954, he became a professor of geography and the head of the department of social studies at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute and University of Southwestern Louisiana, now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He stayed with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette until he retired to serve in the Louisiana Legislature from 1972-1976.
Throughout his life, Dr. Crisler was an avid license-plate collector.
"Some people look at license plates when they drive and play games with them. Well, we decided we'd get one from each state," Dr. Crisler's son, Charles Crisler, said. "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 and attended meets and conventions all around the country, Charles Crisler said.
"He was a kind person, a very wise, knowledgeable and well-educated man. They don’t make them like that anymore."
He is survived by his two sons, Charles Robert Crisler and his wife, Penny, and John Allen Crisler and his wife, Carla; six grandchildren, Jennifer Robin Crisler-Roberts, Jeffery Allen Crisler, Melinda Jo Crisler, Andrew John Crisler, Mia Elizabeth Crisler and Max Stanton Crisler; and three great-grandchildren, Alexandria, Cabel and Royce Crisler.
His first wife, Shirley Spohn Crisler, and his second wife, Freda Erickson Crisler, died earlier.
A service will be held at Delhomme Funeral Home Chapel of the Flowers in Lafayette, La., on April 1.
Memorial donations may be sent to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105. Personal messages of condolence may be forwarded to the Crisler family at the funeral home website.