By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH -- For John F. "Jack" Shupe, maps are more than a navigational necessity; they are tangible memories of his life before retirement.
Mr. Shupe retired in the late 1990s from his position of chief cartographer at National Geographic, but his time there is as treasured as the maps and globes on display in his Vero Beach home.
Though he started off as an architect, Mr. Shupe took an interview in the cartography department at the renowned magazine on a whim early on in his career and slowly worked his way up to the top, leading the department into new technology and through one of the most difficult times in modern history for mapmakers.
Wars, regime changes and political uprising in Europe and Asia during the fall of the Soviet Union and reunification of Germany made it very difficult to keep a map up-to-date and exactly correct, Mr. Shupe said.
"When the Soviet Union broke up, all the former SSR's became independent counties again with their boundaries already established," Mr. Shupe said.
Not only did boundary lines have to be imposed on the maps, land masses recolored and names added or removed, in some cases the countries altered the names of their cities and translated them into their native alphabet and language, he said.
"It was a voluminous task in that we had to change every single map in our arsenal that had Germany and the former Soviet Union pictured," he said.
During his tenure at The National Geographic Society, Mr. Shupe oversaw a nearly 10-year project to automate the mapping system, moving away from the painstakingly careful hand drawn maps that were mass produced by a printer.
"The discipline of mapmaking didn't change, but the tools they used did change," Mr. Shupe said.
The computer systems he purchased are still in use today.
The cartography department makes maps for brochures, globes, wall maps, maps in magazines and more. While a paper map may be more common to display in a home, it can often be misleading.
"A globe is the only thing that is equal parts area and equidistant. A perfect map that you can use to compare sizes, shapes and distances," he said.
While chief cartographer, Mr. Shupe had the opportunity to approve various map layouts
Recently, Mr. Shupe presented a map from his collection to the local chapter of Vietnam veterans. The map depicted Southeast Asia during 1967 when American forces were battling in the jungles and cities of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.
The map is located in the Victory Center at the Indian River Mall in Vero Beach.