History of the Collection

The Luther College Geology Collection appears to have been started in the early days of the College, with a combination of privately collected specimens and purchases from Ward's Natural Science Establishment. These materials were, at some point, transferred to the Norwegian-American Museum (then the College museum, now the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum).

In the 1940s, Ellison Orr donated a portion of his paleontology collection to the College. This collection was for some time exhibited in the space now occupied by the Sherman Hoslett Collection, and may have been considered part of that collection for a time. In 1972, the materials from the Vesterheim were returned to campus, and most of them identified or re-identified and numbered by former curator Jean Young, who made a preliminary catalog for them.

In the mid-1970s, the College received at least part of Marguerite Wildenhain's rock and mineral collection (along with her catalog), some of which was displayed with the Orr collection, some left packed, and some dispersed into teaching sets. At about the same time noted amateur collector Art Gerk donated a fine collection of brachiopods. Local dentist Dr. Henry Field also donated vertebrate remains, notably the jaw of a baby mammoth found in the floodplain gravels of the Highway 76 bridge over the Upper Iowa River.

The Geology Collection has also been augmented by the donation of several other collections, notably plant fossils from the Mazon Creek locality and other materials given by the widow of Luther alumnus Wallace Skarshaug. Luther was also offered a large collection which another famous amateur, Amel Priest of Winterset, Iowa, had left to the Madison County Historical Society. The Amel Priest Collection includes a large number of crinoid specimens, brachiopods, stratigraphic collections of Pennsylvanian Age material from southern Iowa and eastern Nebraska, Cretaceous fossils from Texas, and assorted other materials. Jean Young also donated a large personal collection to the College.

Jean Young, Amel Priest Collection
Jean Young and Lindsey Lane ('03) work with specimens from the Amel Priest Collection.

During the 1970s and 1980s, as space was needed for other items, the geology materials were packed, repacked, moved, stored, and moved again, until in 1990 the great bulk of the collection was to be found in a heap on the floor of the basement of Preus Library. Jean Young did much of the work of sorting, re-identifying and re-cataloging the collection, attempting to match specimens with existing catalogs.

Today the Geology Collection is housed in the Environmental Studies wing of Valders Hall of Science. Much of the work of transporting the collection from Preus Library to Valders was done by Katherine Haller ('10) during the summer of 2009. Samples from the collection are used in geology, biology, environmental education, and science education courses and for community outreach.