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January 2, 2014
Gem & Mineral Society

Life-long members say Tooele gem club rocks 

Before coming to Tooele, Heinz and Selma Jockisch never really planned to become rock hounds. But the couple has maintained active membership in the Tooele Gem & Mineral Society for more than 40 years.

When the Jockisch family moved to Tooele from St. Louis in the 1970s, Heinz and Selma worried that their five children would end up with nothing to do in this new, small town. Then one of Heinz’s coworkers, who suspected that the Jockisch kids might like hunting for rocks, suggested they check out the local gem club. They first joined a month before Christmas, Selma said, and the club welcomed them with open arms.

“Rock hounds are a different breed of people,” Heinz said. “There are no strangers.”

Their kids liked rock hounding and quickly made friends within the club, so the Jockisch family stayed. More experienced members took the family under their wing, and three years later, Heinz found himself elected the club’s president.

The club was still young, then, having just accepted its charter in 1964. Though the charter members have since passed on, the club marked its upcoming 50th anniversary by awarding lifetime memberships to three couples that have remained active in the club for at least 40—Heinz and Selma, Donald and Ruth Smith, and Mickey and Sherri Miller.

Though each individual has their own specialized interest within the rock hobby, all cited the gem club’s social, family-friendly atmosphere as a chief reason they remained active rock collectors through the years.

The Jockisch family took their first rock hunting trip together, to collect geodes from a geode bed near Dugway. They made rock hounding a family business and took trips together for years. After the kids moved away, Heinz continued rock hounding and searching for the types of gems that can hide in plain sight. Fire opal, one of his favorites, can hide in rocks that appear rather ordinary to the untrained eye, Heinz said.

“It takes a special skill to find,” he said. “They say if you find one, you’ll never find another like it.”

But Heinz has collected dozens, which he uses to create jewelry for his wife, children and grandchildren. He has made an assortment of rings, earrings, belt buckles and even bolo ties, but Heinz’s favorite part remains the social “field trips.”

“The best part about it is, everyone goes in groups,” he said. “You get out there and have a bonfire in the desert—and you come back a different person.”

The Millers, likewise, said they had found warmth and friendship within the club, even though they initially joined to pursue Mickey’s long-time rock collecting hobby.

“The people were so friendly and helped each other, and made sure we all had a fun time,” Sherri said.

Both Sherri and Mickey hail from Heber, where Mickey first began collecting and selling petrified wood. The couple moved to Tooele shortly after they married and Mickey took a job at the Tooele Army Depot. They joined the gem club in 1968 at the suggestion of one of Mickey’s cousins, who had also recently joined the club.

Mickey continues to collect petrified wood—he recently found some rare square cell wood, he said—which he uses to make jewelry with his own homemade silver settings. Sherri is also an active member of the club and has served in numerous auxiliary positions, working as the club’s secretary or historian on various occasions.

In recent years, the club has afforded Mickey opportunities to teach new members about silversmithing—a task he greatly enjoys, Sherri said.

“We’ve enjoyed the friendship of the newer members that we’ve met, because our older friends have passed on,” she said.

Like the Millers, the Smiths joined the Tooele gem club 44 years ago to further their pre-existing hobbies. But Ruth was less interested in making jewelry than in the rock’s artistic potential.

While Donald does make some of his own jewelry, over the last few years the couple has worked together to create three-dimensional rock collages. Donald collects the rocks while out on trips with the gem club, and Ruth, who made professional floral arrangements for 28 years, designs and creates the collages. Their work can take just about any form, from vases filled with rock flowers to a log cabin scene complete with trees and wildlife.

“Every year I sit and think what I want to do—and if I want something special I start making it,” Ruth said. “If I want a tree in a scene, I make a tree.”

Ruth and Donald then display their combined results at the gem club’s showcases—yearly highlights that allow all the local rock hounds to display their work to the community. It was at a similar event 44 years ago that Ruth and Donald first encountered rock hounding and decided to jump right in.

The club has changed somewhat since then. Where the club used to send whole caravans of campers and trailers to states all across the west, the regular rock hounding field trips now take place just three or four times a year, and most of the time involve in-state destinations. Many rock hounding sites have closed to the public, formal galas are a thing of the past and the size of the club has decreased. But according to Selma, the newcomers still come, and their level of talent and passion suggests a bright future for the Tooele Gem & Mineral Society.

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