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Saying goodbye

Wolf is donating his extensive rock collection to University of Iowa

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Robert Wolf, of Fort Dodge, sits among the boxes of rock specimens he’s donating to the University of Iowa. Wolf has spent a lifetime collecting the specimens in Iowa and he’s carefully cataloged each piece. He also donated part of the rock collection to the University of Pittsburgh and his book collection to the University of Northern Iowa. Wolf is moving into an apartment and no longer has room for the collection, which he’s taken a lifetime to build.

Robert Wolf, of Fort Dodge, has about 250 boxes of rock samples sitting in his garage waiting for a crew from the University of Iowa to come pick them up with a 20-foot truck.

The collection took the better part of 30 years to find. Each rock sample has a number and each is recorded in a log book that tells what it is, where it was collected and when he found it.

Wolf can no longer store the collection in the basement of his mother, Loretta Wolf’s house. After her death, he’s moving into an apartment.

“Times are a changing for me,” he said.

The collection is all Iowan.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Robert Wolf, of Fort Dodge, holds the fossilized remains of a path or burrow made by an unknown ancient animal that he’s going to keep. Wolf has donated most of his collection of fossils and books to the University of Iowa, The University of Northern Iowa and the University of Pittsburgh.

“There’s a sample of every formation in Iowa,” he said. “There are 350 rock units in and around Iowa. I have all the families and 95% of the members. That’s what makes this collection unique. It’s a good representation of the state of Iowa.”

What makes his collection valuable and of interest to a university is that it’s properly cataloged. Without the information Wolf recorded, it’s just a big pile of rocks.

“There are 18,000 specimens,” Wolf said. “I went through and put them all in a log book. The numbers match the file. That helped the university a lot. Otherwise it was just a pile of rocks, it could mean anything.”

Before the collection was accepted, Wolf had to provide evidence of his credentials and expertise.

“I had to prove it was of scientific value,” he said.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Robert Wolf, of Fort Dodge, looks over one of his specimens that he collected on the Iron Range in Minnesota. The fossil is 1.8 billion years old.

For academic credentials, Wolf has authored several books including “Fossils of Iowa” and many papers on rocks, fossils and minerals.

During his life, Wolf had also built up an extensive library of books.

“The University of Northern Iowa took my library,” he said. “It’s about 300 books.”

A smaller selection of samples is heading east.

“Back in June the University of Pittsburgh took about 10 boxes,” Wolf said.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Robert Wolf, of Fort Dodge, looks over a geode his wife, JoRae Wolf, found on one of their collecting trips. He’s keeping it.

Even with the donations to the schools, Wolf still has a pretty extensive collection of rocks. Some of it will be sold, some traded and some, like a cantaloupe sized geode, he’s keeping for sentimental reasons.

“My wife found that,” he said while holding up the rock. “She’s a big rock collector, too.”

Wolf still has the first fossil he found. A friend showed him a spot to look. They were in fourth grade.

“It’s somewhere in the basement,” he said.

Wolf ended up going back many times to that spot in the years since to look for fossils. The “secret” spot has been one of his favorite places to hunt.

“After he showed me my first fossil,” he said of his friend. “We found another outcrop. We started finding fossils, we still go back there after all these years.”

Fossil hunting there is probably a thing of the past for Wolf.

“It’s probably ruined because they took out the dams,” he said. “The water will never be that low again.”

Wolf has been a long time member of the River Valley Rockhounds.

“I joined when I was a kid back in the ’70s,” he said. “I’ve served as president for 30 years.”

Wolf said that he’s no longer president, but will still be helping with their annual show and remain active in the club.

There was no collusion, he just thought it was time.

“The Russians had nothing to do with that,” he said. “As far as I know.”