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September-October 2016

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In Memoriam: Ronald “Ron” W. Wertz (1937–2016)

Ron Wertz may not be a familiar name to many in the mineral community—we tend to focus on those who are “out there,” but often it may be the person with low visibility who brings significant moments and work on behalf of the world of mineralogy. Ron tended to be behind the scenes most of the time. Yes, we would see him at Tucson or occasionally at other shows, but one would never know his importance.

Ron was a Pennsylvanian through and through. He was born 11 August 1937 in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, where he attended school and lived until receiving a basketball scholarship to Juanita College. He graduated in 1959 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. In college he met Ann Larkin, and they were married graduation year and have been together since. I always loved seeing them together—so much love and respect between the two. (Okay, so I managed to get in another love story.) Ron worked in administration at Juanita College and Franklin and Marshall College until 1969 when he took a job in Pittsburgh as executive director of the Hillman Family Foundation (founded by Henry L. Hillman, an American billionaire businessman, investor, civic leader, and philanthropist).

Ron would spend the next forty years overseeing the philanthropic efforts on behalf of the Hillman family, which has eighteen named foundations spread across the country. In 1990 Henry Hillman appointed Ron as president and a trustee. The Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is one of the many institutions that has benefitted from the generosity of the Hillman Family. Ron took an interest in minerals and would accompany the curator at the time to many shows and seek out specimens for the museum. (My husband, Wayne, and I like to visit some of our former specimens in the hall.) Ron's work for the foundation in developing the museum's excellent collection was recognized by the Hillman Family, and the Wertz Gallery of Gems and Jewelry at the Carnegie Museum was named in recognition of that work in developing their excellent collection. The museum has the finest Pennsylvania minerals in the world because Ron pushed forward with the purchase of the Pennsylvania specimens de-accessioned from the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences in 2007. Pennsylvania's mineral heritage is preserved now for generations. It was the same year that Ron supported the acquisition of the academy's collection of 164 Russian minerals to add to the former Soviet Union collection the museum is building.

The foundation also established a scholarship in Ron and Ann's name at their alma mater, Juanita College. Plus Ron was awarded an honorary degree from the college.

I remember Ron as a quiet, decisive, and funny man with ethics. How pleasurable it was to do business with such an individual. Ron retired in 1990 from the foundation, and he and Ann moved to Naples, Florida. He loved golf, and there he could play every day of the year.

In Pittsburgh he was a fierce paddle tennis player when the golf course was under snow. In 2002 Ron was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, but he continued to live an active life playing golf, traveling with his family, and hanging out at the Pelican Marsh Golf Club with his friends after a good round of golf.

In addition to Ann, Ron is survived by their children, Laurie, Michael, and Jeffrey, and four grandchildren, Catherine, Matthew, John, and Julianne.

Ron, I would say your life was a definite “A” Game.

Dona Lee Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1974.       

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