Dr. Ben Vrana has been a member of the Loup Valley Gem and Mineral Society since it started in 1972.

Courtesy photo

COLUMBUS — This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Loup Valley Gem and Mineral Society.

The group started in 1972 when students took a gem cutting and polishing class at Central Community College taught by George “Chic” Cihacek. Many of the students had been collecting rocks since they were young and the course fueled their love of geology, which led to the club's creation.

Five years passed before the society held its first gem, jewelry and artifact show. The 40th will be held this weekend at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

Dr. Ben Vrana, an original member who is still active in the group, said some things have changed while others remain the same.

“We write and mail out a newsletter called the Loup Scoop," Vrana said. “It tells what’s going on and who is doing what. We also put on a show every year. We used to go on annual fossil searches in a local stream, but we haven’t done that as much as I’d like. Time has become an element.”

Rose Ternes joined the society in 1973. She took Chic’s class and learned how to hone the craft of gemstone polishing.

“He taught us how to polish the cabochon and it came out beautiful,” Ternes said. “It was my first one and I’m still excited about it.”

Cheryl Barnholdt has been a member of the Loup Valley Gem and Mineral Society since 1977.

“As a kid I was interested in rocks, and that interest hasn’t stopped,” Barnholdt said. “The club is a mix of people who know a little bit of everything, so some people can join and not know that much about rocks and meet someone in the club who can teach them all they want to know.”

Barnholdt acquired most of her rock knowledge from running the cash register at Wall Drug in South Dakota, where she worked for a rock store.

The local group has expanded beyond just rocks.

“The club right now likes Indian artifacts and bones, so they’re more of an artifact club,” Barnholdt said. “But there are still a few of us old rock hounds that are in there. It’s definitely a mixture of different people with different collections that like different things.”

There is one characteristic they all share. They have loved geology since childhood.

“My mother had to make sure my jean pockets were clean of rocks before washing them,” Ternes said.

Barnholdt said her love of geology was encouraged by a family member.

“I grew up by the Blue River,” she said. “My aunt would come down to visit us and we’d go looking for rocks.”

Vrana took a different path to learning about geology.

“Paleontology is my passion in life,” he said. “I worked with UNL on fossil digs in South Dakota, where we looked for ancient plants and, of course, dinosaurs.”

The four charter members of the Loup Valley Gem and Mineral Society, including Ternes’ husband Dick, also have a common goal. They want to keep the club going into the next generation.

“We really want younger people to get interested in this stuff,” Ternes said. “The best part of our meetings is when we get together and make each other jealous about what we’ve dug up recently. We want kids to learn how to dig and learn from history.

"Working with the younger people keeps us young, too.”


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