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May-June 2014

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In Memoriam: Serafino “Sal” G. Avella (1928–2013)

We are blessed if during our lives we have a few very close friends. Sal Avella was one of those friends to me. Serafino G. Avella, fondly known to everyone as Sal, died at the age of eighty-five on 27 December 2013. He is survived by his sons, Col. Paul J. Avella (U.S. Airforce, retired) and his wife, Cynthia, of Littleton, Massachusetts; David R. Avella of Albany, New York; his daughter, Elizabeth A. Kimmel, and her husband, Jeremy, of Denver, Colorado; and eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Sal was born 27 July 1928 in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Christina (Regine) and Serafino Avella Sr., two Italian immigrants who raised a family of fourteen children (Felix, Florence, James, John, Joseph, Josephine, Madelane, Madeline, Paul, Ralph, Rosa, Serafino, Sue, and Vito).

Sal, who graduated from Central High School, started working at a butcher shop (the Triangle Market on Federal Hill) at the age of eleven for Anthony DiGuglio. He always spoke highly of Mr. DiGuglio, who was an early mentor and longtime friend. Sal was an army veteran of the Korean War (1950–1952), an independent grocery-store owner, a meat cutter for the former Star Market, and the founder and owner of Apple Valley Minerals in Smithfield, Rhode Island, for fifty-one years. He was an active member of the Rhode Island Mineral Hunters, and a club award for “best specimen” is named in his honor. For decades he was dedicated to educating young people. In addition to regularly visiting elementary and middle schools in northern Rhode Island to speak about rocks and minerals, he hosted numerous school field trips at Apple Valley Minerals.

Sal was first introduced to mineralogy and mineral collecting in 1960 by Cecile Foster and Louis “Louie” Rosa, two of the founding members of the Rhode Island Mineral Hunters. Through their guidance Sal started as and remained an avid field-collector. The three were close collecting partners until 1970 when Cecile and Louie both passed away. They collected at many localities in Ontario, Québec, throughout New England, and especially in Rhode Island. As soon as Sal had started field collecting minerals, he began selling and trading them. In 1962 he opened Apple Valley Minerals and operated “the shop” in the evenings and weekends until his retirement from Star Market in 1989, after which Apple Valley Minerals became his full-time vocation. Tens of thousands of fantastic mineral specimens have passed through the shop over the years. As a mineral dealer Sal's personal collection was rather fluid, with specimens coming and going. However, he did assemble several important subcollections that mostly stayed intact until their recent disposal by auction or personal sale. These included Michigan coppers, gold and other native elements, meteorites, antique microscopes and other mineralogical instruments, crystal structure models, and, most significantly, a fine thumbnail collection of more than ten thousand specimens.

I first met Sal in 1975 at a Rhode Island Mineral Hunters show in Barrington, Rhode Island, when I was in the fifth-grade. He has been a close friend ever since. I am grateful to my mother for driving me to Sal's and patiently waiting for hours while we talked and studied minerals. She must have done this several hundred times before I was able to drive myself. I remember anxiously anticipating phone calls from Sal when he would describe in vivid detail mineral specimens that he had recently acquired, and then making plans for our next visit to the shop. Through his immense generosity, his infectious joy for minerals, and his love of sharing them with his friends, Sal influenced the lives of many people and fostered countless mineral enthusiasts. It is not an understatement to say that without Sal's influence I would not have followed the path that I have in my life and career. Every week for decades the shop was a regular meeting place for friends and mineral collectors. I fondly remember visiting with Sal's close friends including Fred Corcoran (1924–2007), who helped in the business for twenty-nine years, Joe Crawford, Roland Deloge, Phil Scalisi, Bill Metropolis, Ralph Carr, Marilyn Dodge, Russ Behnke, Willard Winslow, Norman Charest, who also helped run the shop for many years, and others.

In 1981 Sal was one of the discoverers (along with two school teachers who owned the property, Fred Corcoran, and me) of what is arguably the most important mineral locality in the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Ashaway Village, Hopkinton. Beautiful amethyst and milky quartz specimens occur here, often as scepter crystals. Sal coauthored two papers on the locality: Metropolis, Rakovan and Avella (1986) and Rakovan et al. (1995). Because there is no surface exposure at the deposit, deep trenches (sometimes exceeding 20 feet in depth) had to be dug via backhoe. For the first few years after the discovery, the three of us worked the deposit intermittently along with the owners of the property, usually keeping a hole open for days or weeks at a time. Later on, Sal made “the dig” an annual event to which many lucky friends were invited to participate. However, rather than digging for multiple days, the event was held only one day a year, with the excavation being reclaimed at the end of the day. This continued until 2012. Digging with Sal in Hopkinton remains one of my fondest memories of field collecting, and the few specimens I have kept are very personal reminders of our friendship and time together.

Sal's passing was unexpected but not premature. Although he had reached the age of eighty-five, he still had a youthful twinkle in his eye and an excited lift in his voice when discussing minerals. He still was very active in running the shop and had attended both the Tucson and Denver mineral shows in 2013. The rock shop occupied the front part of the building where Sal has lived since purchasing it (for the tidy sum of $3,000) in 1960. In a recent interview for an article in the Providence Journal newspaper (21 November 2012, p. A8) Sal expressed that “I love my rock shop. This is where I want to spend the rest of my life.” He was fortunate to have been granted that wish. Sal was inurned with military honors at the Arnold Mills Cemetery, in Cumberland, Rhode Island, on 2 January 2014. May he rest in peace. I will miss you, my friend.

REFERENCES

Metropolis, W. C., J. Rakovan, and S. Avella. 1986. Amethyst sceptered quartz from Ashaway Village, Hopkinton, Rhode Island. Rocks & Minerals 61:247–50.

Rakovan, J., D. B. Mitcheltree, L. Benton, and S. Avella. 1995. Amethyst on milky quartz from Hopkinton, Rhode Island. Mineralogical Record 26:83–89.

Dr. John Rakovan, an executive editor of Rocks & Minerals, is a professor of mineralogy and geochemistry at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

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