Rock collector shares knowledge with Bear Lake students

BEAR LAKE — Expanding the horizons of young minds is what learning in the classroom is all about.

Volunteer Gerald Wilgus records each of the steps the students take in the rock smoothing process in the tumbler. Students have learned a great deal from Wilgus who collects rocks as a hobby and has been working the science classes at Bear Lake schools.

Volunteer Gerald Wilgus records each of the steps the students take in the rock smoothing process in the tumbler. Students have learned a great deal from Wilgus who collects rocks as a hobby and has been working the science classes at Bear Lake schools.

Teachers who recognize unique learning opportunities are usually the ones with students who excel in that particular field of study. When Bear Lake Schools science teacher John Prokes was approached by local rock collecting enthusiast Gerald Wilgus about doing a program with the students. Prokes said it was a perfect fit for several of his science classes.

“He contacted me and asked if we would be interested in having some rocks and fossils that he collected out West,” said Prokes. “Any opportunity I have to get stuff for my kids like this I am all on board.”

Prokes said Wilgus came in back in January with rocks and fossils that he donated to the schools that he collected. He also purchased a rock tumbler system with his own money so the students could use it to shine up the rocks.

“He came in and gave a presentation to our students and this ties in perfectly with our Earth Science students,” said Prokes. “We talk about rocks, minerals and about their value and how they are used. Well, here is a person who is from our community who came in and showed the students what he collected.”

Prokes said instead of just learning about rocks in books, the students get a first-hand view of them.

“He has shown us how you can take rocks and turn them into beautiful jewelry,” said Prokes. “So when a person from the community comes in and asks if he can do this my response was, ‘are you kidding? Of course you can.'”

The Bear Lake science teacher was very appreciative of the efforts of Wilgus  to share his knowledge with the students. It is something that would most likely be out of the scope of being purchased with school funds.

“Without him donating his collection or bringing in his rock tumbler system, the odds of us getting something like this would be pretty small,” said Prokes.

Wilgus said last year he went to Utah to do some mineral and fossil collecting and brought the raw samples in for the students to study and work with them in various projects.

“I am getting them into tumbling and shining the rocks as it takes about a month to finish them and make jewelry out of them,” said Wilgus. “I think it is really necessary to keep kids interested in it.”

What they are also doing is making specimen boxes for Prokes to use in his classroom when they are studying rocks and minerals. The specimen boxes will keep the rocks in good condition so students can use them for many years.

Wilgus said it is his way of paying it forward to the students.

“As a kid I had gotten a lot of help with people in getting interested in nature and everything, so I just find it normal to give that to the community,” said Wilgus. “I started collecting at the age of 10 and have been collecting for 57 years.”

Wilgus has donated materials to various universities and area schools for many years. He said if it benefits the students, then it brings him satisfaction in knowing he helped them.

“I am not into just saving stuff anymore and am more interested in giving it people to use it,” he said. “Some of the materials I have, school teachers can’t afford anymore, so why not give them stuff they can use.”

Wilgus said he didn’t work in geology during his career, but looks at it as a hobby.

“I always liked natural history growing up,” he said. “I went into genetics and molecular biology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry. It all comes down to what you like as a hobby. It’s enriching.”

Some of the students have a gained new interest in the study of rocks and minerals.

Josh Feyers said he finds it very interesting and has ambitions to pursue it further after he graduates.

“The rocks are part of Earth’s history and they look very cool,” said Feyers. “It is fun to take something that is rough and jagged and turn it into something smooth and shiny. I will be graduating soon and am thinking about heading out West to visit some family and my destination is Utah. Mr. Wilgus said he got a lot these fossils and rocks from Utah, and I figured since I am there it might be fun to find some good sites.”

Student Todd Merrill said he finds it interesting for several different reasons.

“I think it is real interesting to learn how some of these rocks were formed and how long it has taken for them to become the way they are, like crystals and all that other stuff,” he said. “It’s really neat to learn about the geological processes.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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