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July-August 2015

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In Memoriam: John E. Passaneau (1949–2014)

John Elbridge Passaneau, longtime mineral collector and member of central Pennsylvania's Nittany Mineralogical Society, died 16 October 2014, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Born 13 May 1949 in Lansing, Michigan, John began collecting minerals as a youngster. On his mindat.org home page, he noted that his “interest in rock collecting started one warm summer day when friends and I were sitting around doing the ‘what do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do?’ dance. As someone had just given me a copy of the Little Golden Book of mineral collecting, I suggested that we start rock collecting. We all did.” And John remained an avid “rock” collector throughout the next fifty-five years.

After John's father died, he was raised by his mother, Annie, with whom he lived much of his adult life. Annie strongly encouraged John, accompanying him to mineral shows, meetings, and field trips. To earn money to buy specimens, John often worked for dealers at mineral shows in southern Michigan. Under the tutelage of these dealers—who enjoyed encouraging a young collector so obviously fascinated by minerals—John learned to recognize top-quality specimens and began to build his personal collection.

John was a hobbyist's hobbyist. There is almost no aspect of mineral collecting in which he did not participate. He belonged to several mineral clubs, including the Central Michigan Lapidary and Mineral Society and the Sycamore Valley Lapidary and Mineral Society in Michigan, and he eventually became a founding member of the Nittany Mineralogical Society (NMS) in State College, Pennsylvania. Serving in a variety of offices, he almost never missed a club meeting. While his health held, he took part in many field trips, collecting specimens, learning to properly trim them, and retaining only the best. He designed and built display cases and exhibited minerals competitively at shows in Michigan and Pennsylvania. He also assembled a high-quality micromount collection (willed to the NMS). His personal collection, specializing in zeolites, quartz, twin crystals, and fluorescent minerals, was professionally documented and carefully maintained, emphasizing quality rather than quantity. After moving to State College, John established a professional-level “museum” in his basement with well-lit cases that showed off his carefully acquired collection.

An engineer in the physics department at Penn State University, John was an electronics wizard. His put these skills to work in designing fluorescent mineral displays for local museums, mineral shows, and educational events. Each year he developed an entirely new educational concept for his “hands-on” table at the NMS's annual Junior Mineral Education Days. Some of his most memorable efforts focused on piezoelectricity, magnetism, and the six crystal systems. He was always willing to teach and help others; many collectors brought broken ultraviolet lamps or defunct Geiger counters to John for repair.

John's greatest passion, however, was mineral photography. Considering himself a disciple of Jeff Scovil, John imitated his style and technique and used his own engineering skills to construct much of his equipment. Starting with color slides, he moved on to master modern digital photography, proving himself to be an expert at post-image processing and digital “stacking” techniques. His photos have been published in magazines and used by the NMS for its annual posters. A selection of his work is posted on http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/j/x/jxp16.

Above all, John was generous—generous with his skills, his specimens, and his time. An only child, he never married. But it is a measure of his character that every mineral collector who knew and worked beside him would have been proud to have been called one of John's brothers or sisters.

Dr. Andrew A. Sicree is a geochemist/mineralogist and writer living and teaching in central Pennsylvania.

 

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