My Earliest Rock Collecting Memories

by Kathy Hrechka, MSDC Member

Kathy Hrechka Checking Out a Specimen at Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Maryland in 1985

I remember in grade school when my dad drove our family to Superior, Wisconsin in a station wagon (that had no seat belts) with Mom and seven kids. Dad pulled our camper behind, which became our home during summers while he attended graduate classes. At the trailer park, we adventured through a field and along the railroad tracks where we collected hundreds of round grey rocks called taconite pellets.

My dad taught me how to look for agates along the Lake Superior shoreline. We also found layered red and grey rocks, banded iron formations. Dad would stop at rock shops along the way home, just for me. I have one unique memory from grade school, observing the first moon rock at our local library in Marshfield, Wisconsin. One Christmas when I was in fourth grade, Santa delivered my favorite gift ever – a rock tumbler. That gift marked the official beginning of my rock collection. To this day, I have some of those tumbled stones from my childhood.

In college, I was petrified of being required to take public speaking, but using my rock tumbler for a demonstration speech made it easy. After graduating college with a BS in Fashion Merchandising, I chose a career as a flight attendant. My speaking skills were on view as we recited those required announcements, including the infamous departure announcements where passengers revealed every expression imaginable. Thanks to my job-related travels, my desire to discover rocks formations across the globe became fulfilled, including climbing Ayers Rock, Machu Picchu, pyramids in Egypt, and archeological sites in Central America.

New to the DC area, in 1985 I attended a rock show in Montgomery County, Maryland. Just as I was leaving, I heard my name called over the loudspeaker saying that I had won a door prize, a mineral specimen that was not named. To meet new friends, I took the unknown mineral to the people with microscopes for identification. I just wanted to embrace like-minded new friends.

My mystery mineral from 1985, a door prize from the GLMSMC Show. Photo by Kathy Hrechka.

Fred Schaefermeyer greeted me and invited me to join his club, the Micromineralogists of the National Capital Area, Inc. (MNCA). There was a scheduled trip to the Rockville quarry, which interested me, and I enjoyed collecting microminerals there. My friendship with Fred grew and he became my geo mentor for over 30 years. I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if my name was not called for this door prize years ago...

In 1990, I had an opportunity to tour the Premier Diamond Mine in Pretoria, South Africa, which sparked my interest in studying diamonds. Now I specialize in collecting micromineral diamonds and studying their inclusions. Eventually I prospected for diamonds in Murfreesboro, Arkansas at the Crater of Diamonds State Park.

When I married Ken in 1991, one stop on our honeymoon included Hawaii where we helicoptered over Kilauea and collected olivine crystals on the basalt terrain. This was Ken’s first introduction that I had a serious avocation for mineral collecting. He helped me locate reticulite, Pele’s fine spun frothy hair fibers.

Today I volunteer as webmaster and the editor of The Mineral Mite for MNCA. I also enjoy volunteering in the Geology, Gems, & Mineral Hall at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. More importantly, I am grateful for my friends who understand my passion for geology.

Fred Schaefermeyer looking for garnets at Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Maryland in 1985