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July-August 2010

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In Memoriam: Harvey M. Gordon Jr., L. "Rex" Bannister, and Peter P. Rodewald

Harvey M. Gordon Jr. (1935–2010)

by Dona L. Leicht

Whenever I'm approached to write an obituary, I am always astonished at how much trivia I know about that person. I think Harvey Gordon was one of those people—we see them often, we talk, we laugh, and yet there are the “unknowns” that never come to the surface in the midst of all the mineral talk that gets in the way.

Harvey walked quietly and methodically among us. Sadly, we lost one of the “good ones” to cancer on 26 January 2009. His beloved Lola (wife of fifty-three years) and his three children, Marvin, Cindy, and Paul, were with him at the end. I could interject here that part of Harvey's story is a love story centered around Lola Ann Honey, a lovely flute player in the University of Nevada band. Harvey, the party animal of Phi Sigma Kappa, and his saxophone and Lola's flute tuned in to each other, and they married in 1957.

Harvey was born in Devil's Lake, North Dakota (at that time the population was about five thousand), to Harvey and Alma (Wickum) Gordon. The family moved to Hawthorne, Nevada, in 1942, and Harvey lived in the state the rest of his life, attending schools in Mineral County and later in Reno at the University of Nevada where he received his degree in business.

Harvey served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960, ending up in Anchorage, Alaska, where Lola joined him and taught school until his discharge. Later back in Reno, they raised their three children, and Harvey worked as payroll manager for John Ascuaga's Nugget Casino. An outdoorsman and sportsman all his life, somewhere on those hunting trips he must have found that first rock that began his journey into the world of minerals. I have not been able to pinpoint the exact moment when the payroll manager became a mineral collector but in the early 1970s Harvey put down his pencil and picked up a rock hammer. His truck, towing a trailer, hit the road, and he started appearing at various mineral shows around the country. Clearly, the 1982 find of the Bunker Hill pyromorphites was the foot in the door he needed, and his introduction of those specimens at Tucson that year created one of the most excited rushes for acquisition. Field collecting brought him the greatest satisfaction, and his mining operations in the Western states were most often successful—the epidotes from the Lola claim and the topaz, smoky quartz, and amazonite from the Zapot claim near Hawthorne, Nevada, among them.

His shop on Wells Avenue (Sierra Nevada Minerals) was an anticipated stop for collectors in the area and for any collector traveling to Reno. Harvey was always upbeat and filled with laughter and good stories. Looking back over the years, I don't think I have ever heard a disparaging remark about Harvey. His courageous battle with cancer began in 2003, but he continued to attend shows when he could, kept in touch with his many, many friends, and was always anxious to see collectors, many of whom he mentored in their early days of collecting.

When I discovered that Harvey loved playing the musette (yes, I did have to go to my dictionary to find out what that was!) for children at the Shriner hospitals, it somehow felt right that he would share in such a way. He was an active member of the Kerak Shrine in Reno (where he was usually tending bar at the parties) and the Reno Royal Court of Jesters No. 33 (he loved hearing and telling jokes) and maintained his love of fishing and hunting.

This is a man who leaves a legion of friends around the world. Kind, generous, optimistic, and joyous.… we'll remember him well.

L. “Rex” Bannister (1923–2010)

by Carl A. Francis

Lawrence Reginald “Rex” Bannister was born in Oklahoma to James Rufus and Mary Louise Bannister on 21 May 1923, the youngest of five children. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, Rex earned a degree in geological engineering from the University of Oklahoma and spent most of his professional career working for Laclede Gas Company, a prominent St. Louis utility. Rex accepted a position as the first superintendent for underground gas storage and retired in 1985 as vice-president. He remained a consultant to Laclede Gas until his death.

Rex was a master mineral collector. When I met him in the 1970s, he was already specializing in specimens from the fluorspar mines of southern Illinois because he realized that he couldn't afford the fine-quality classic or contemporary (e.g., Tsumeb) specimens he desired. Even then collectors complained about high prices and competition from wealthier collectors. Rex solved that problem for himself by becoming a big fish in a small pond. The fluorites and associated minerals from nearby Cave-in-Rock were readily available and still underappreciated in the national and international markets. Rex mostly bought his specimens in Cave-in-Rock from local dealers who got them directly from miners. When the quality was exceptional, he also bought from full-time dealers in the Midwest. Rex dealt in specimens in a minor way because he realized that he could defray his collecting costs by purchasing specimen lots, retaining only a few pieces, and selling the others. Using these means he built a truly fine collection. It was not particularly extensive, but it was representative of the minerals and mines that were producing in Cave-in-Rock at that time. The aesthetic quality of his specimens distinguished the collection. Connoisseurship was a critical “key” to his collecting success. Although he rarely displayed at mineral shows, Rex enjoyed an admirable reputation for his collection.

Rex was also a collector of consequence. Many collections are formed, but few survive much longer than the collector. Rex understood his achievement and sought to perpetuate his collection. At the suggestion and with the assistance of our mutual friend, St. Louis mineral dealer Dr. Gary R. Hansen, I purchased the L. Rex and Julia Bannister collection in June 1978, on the condition that the collection would remain intact. (Museums, including my own, no longer permit such restrictions.) Like all collectors, Rex had more specimens than his best. The purchase consisted of seventy cabinet-sized specimens he selected from his holdings. The following year the Bannisters donated an additional forty cabinet specimens (and the miniatures were sold to a dealer). This proved to be a foundational acquisition, for by then I had developed a passion for Rex's speciality. With the Bannister collection as its core, the suite from southern Illinois has grown to more than three hundred specimens and forms a speciality that adds a distinctive facet to the character of the Harvard collection. Rex's example is a continuing inspiration to collectors, and “Bannister quality” still means something to aficionados of Illinois fluorite!

Rex disposed of his mineral collection in anticipation of retirement and relocation to Lake of the Ozarks. He kept in touch with mineral friends and attended the Tucson Show a few times, but his collecting interest and skills turned to antique fishing lures. Using the same skills that built his mineral collection, he assembled over a twelve-year period an outstanding collection of some three-hundred lures manufactured by the C. A. Clark Company of Springfield, Missouri.

Rex died in Iberia, Missouri, on 27 February 2010, leaving his wife, Sharon Spicer; three daughters; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. He was previously married to Margaret Trimble Bannister, mother of his children, and to Julia Detroy Bannister, mother of stepdaughter Drue.

Rex frequently referred to himself as an old “Okie” and had a fine, dry sense of humor. I'll always picture him with a broad smile, a toothpick in his cheek, and a twinkle in his eye.

Dr. Carl A. Francis, a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals, is curator of the Harvard Mineralogical Museum.

Peter P. Rodewald (1940–2010)

by William S. Cordua

Pete Rodewald was born on 13 September 1940 in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. In 1954 the Rodewald family moved to River Falls, Wisconsin, where Pete lived until August 2009 when he went into assisted living. Pete worked all his life for local family farms and seed companies. Pete's real passion, however, was natural history, especially rocks. He was “bitten” early, beginning to pick up agates when he was only four years old. Pete thus developed a particular interest in Lake Superior agates as well as Keweenawan native copper and the copper-bearing agates from the Wolverine mine. Pete was a frequent visitor to the copper mines in Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan (Copper Country). Many Red Metal Round-up and Keweenaw Week visitors will recall his twinkling eyes and uncanny ability to find great specimens where others were finding nothing. Both his keen eye and skill with a metal detector were legendary.

When I was given the responsibility of collecting a representative suite of materials from the Flambeau Copper mine in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, in the 1990s, Pete was my choice as collecting assistant for these very reasons. He spotted many unusual minerals and habits that I would have missed, adding greatly to our understanding of the varied mineralogy of this complex deposit.

Pete often displayed his collection and gave lectures and slide presentations at mineral shows. He also gave frequent presentations to local boys and girls clubs and was generous in his donations to educational institutions. He was one of the charter members of the St. Croix Rockhounds Club in Stillwater, Minnesota, and also a longtime member of the Minnesota Mineral Club. Two highlights for Pete were being an invited speaker at the 2005 agate symposium in Munich, Germany, and at the 2008 Wonderful World of Agates symposium held at the Weis Earth Science Museum in Menasha, Wisconsin.

Pete's photographic skills were remarkable and his stunning images a highlight of all his talks. He became particularly expert at photographing the spectacular color patterns in iris agates and fluorescent agates. His photographs were widely published, many in Rocks & Minerals (e.g., in November/December 2004, pages 410 and 411; July/August 2007, page 282; and July/August 2009, page 322). He also did the photography for and coauthored, with R. Peter Richards, “Pseudo-Octahedral Calcite from the Minesota Mine, Ontonagon County, Michigan” (Rocks & Minerals, July/August 2008, pages 308–12).

Many of Pete's photographs were published in Michael Carlson's Beauty of Banded Agates (Fortification Press, 2002) and in Johann Zenz's massive Agates II (Rainer Bode, 2009). Pete developed an award-winning slide program, Lake Superior Agates, for the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS), and he cocreated, with Dean Stone, another award-winning slide program for the AFMS titled Michigan's White Pine Mine. A third program, based on his iris agate slides, is currently being prepared by Dr. Wayne Sukow.

Pete's spectacular photographs and numerous talks and displays served to delight and inspire young and old alike, encouraging them to collect and learn more about the earth. He was the personification of the idea that persistence and dedication, even without college-level training, can lead one to make significant contributions to our understanding of the earth. Pete also exemplified that this can be done with great joy, for his was a lifelong love of learning. He never lost his curiosity and sense of wonder, demonstrating time and again that if one keeps looking for wonderful things in this world, they will be found. Pete was the definitive collector; he embodied the scientific curiosity, collecting zeal, joy of discovery, and spirit of sharing that encompasses all that is best in this hobby.

Dr. William S. Cordua is a professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls.

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