Rock hounds: On the hunt for fossils, minerals, gems

From left: Isaac Hartman, Zach Smith, Ian Schulz and Robert Schulz have achieved Star Student status through the Topeka Gem & Mineral Society, four of only 31 students in the entire country to complete extensive coursework learning about rocks, minerals, fossils and geology. The four have been honored through the AFMS Future Rockhounds of America program. (Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal)

Many a parent finds children’s pockets at the end of the day laden with pebbles and rocks.


Four Topeka teens carried their fascination with all things rock, mineral and fossil past their childhood, and were recently honored as Rock Stars by the Future Rockhounds of America.

Isaac Hartman, 16; Ian Schulz, 14; Robert Schulz, 17; and Zach Smith, 15 completed extensive coursework to earn 20 badges, learning about rocks, minerals, fossils and geology. They’re four of only 33 young people in the country to receive the honor from the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies.

Robert Schulz laughed and admitted that he was following a girl into the Topeka Gem & Mineral Society, where he pursued his Rock Star award. But his fascination with rock hunting came to the forefront.

“It first started out finding specimens, fossils, rocks and displaying them at the Shawnee County Fair,” he said. “And then my little brother saw an interesting aspect he hadn’t seen before, which was lapidary. He tried it out and I decided that looks like it’s going to be fun.”

Lapidary is also known as the engraving, cutting and polishing of stones and gems. The Topeka Gem and Mineral Society provides teachers, Dave Dillion and Mike Cote, to help members with lapidary skills, and Millie Mowry helps them learn to make wire-wrapped jewelry, said Lesliee Hartman, a spokesperson for the Topeka GMS.

Smith’s favorite part also is lapidary, and he’s especially proud of a turquoise double-sided cabochon he made. His favorite find was a black tourmaline stone.

“It seemed different than what you can find here,” he said, adding that he found it on a trip to South Dakota.

Kansas is good primarily for limestone, one of the boys joked.

“Kansas is more of a fossil place,” said Jason Schulz, father of Robert and Ian and a professed rockhound himself. “There are a lot of good minerals in Kansas, not necessarily gemstone quality. But there are things that you can do lapidary with. One of the fun things is you can actually do lapidary with fossils. Out at Lake Perry, you find lots of horned coral, which if you slice it, it comes out with some beautiful patterns.”

Robert Schulz said the lapidary work can be delicate, though he doesn’t think it’s difficult. He working to make jewelry and build a small business.

“We had a lot of great mentors in helping us choose what material would be best,” he said. “I’ve learned that if it’s an agated piece, you want to cut in an area that doesn’t have so many cracks because it can have that effect, to crumble. If the crack doesn’t go all the way through the stone, that’s not much to worry about, but if it goes all the way through you have to be extra delicate with it because you could end up breaking it.”

Those mentors are one of Ian Schulz’s favorite parts of the group.

“Above anything else, there’s two things I like about the club,” he said. “I like the lapidary and I like the mentors. They’ve taught me a whole lot about rocks and how to work with them and how to cut and polish them.”

Lesliee Hartman said the Topeka GMS members tend to grow their interests over time as they learn about a wide variety of topics, often in concert with 4-H and other area groups.

“Their ideas at the beginning are kind of big,” Lesliee Hartman said. “But over time, they start learning and they start to narrow it down to a certain thing.”

Isaac Hartman plans to carry his interest on to college to seek a degree in paleontology.

The club looks forward to its annual gem and mineral show this weekend at the Agriculture Hall at the Kansas Expocentre. There, they get to see lapidary demonstrations and even a group that’s breaking very large geodes. A special exhibit by Washburn University, the Boltz Collection: Lake Superior Agates highlights the year’s theme around quartz.

The society, which was founded in 1948, isn’t just for young people, and an adult group also meets to share members’ fascination with the treasure that can be found in the earth. People can attend just to learn about the topics, and they don’t have to work toward badges or follow coursework, Lesliee Hartman said.


61st Annual Topeka Gem & Mineral Show

Oct. 14, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Oct. 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Agriculture Hall, Kansas Expocentre

Admission $5 for adults; $1 for students 13 to 17