YOUNGSTOWN Mineral museum to open

A gem of the area is the result of one family's generosity.
YOUNGSTOWN -- When frigid weather prompted Clarence R. Smith Sr. to spend his winters out West, the Youngstown area businessman took up a new hobby -- collecting rocks.
Today, his collection, which has grown into a priceless gem of the Mahoning Valley, is being unveiled during a dedication of the Clarence R. Smith Mineral Museum at Youngstown State University.
Smith bought his first rocks from people trying to eke out a living anyway they could, his son, Clarence R. Smith Jr., recalled.
"Dad believed everyone should work for a living -- it didn't matter what they did," his son said. So, he did what he could to help the rock vendors keep their businesses afloat. "He started buying rocks to help feed those people more than anything else."
After awhile, the senior Smith discovered that he was genuinely interested in geology and took a more serious interest in building a collection. He opened a mineral shop in his barn in 1962, just three years after buying his first rock.
YSU connection: By 1969, he had developed a friendship with Ikram Khawaja, a professor in YSU's geology department, and was lending some of his more impressive specimens to the educator for use in the classroom.
Meanwhile, Smith's son was developing an interest in collecting minerals, too.
"We used to support my dad's interest in minerals -- me and my younger sister -- and then you get involved," he explained.
After his father died in 1970, Smith Jr. moved the collection to Adamas Jewelry & amp; Gifts in Boardman, one of many area companies he owns.
Specimens: He has continued to add to the collection, which now includes thousands of specimens from around the world, including an array of fluorescent rocks that emit brilliant, glowing colors when exposed to ultraviolet light, fossilized dinosaur feces, petrified wood and semiprecious gems.
Some of the specimens are so rare, only a few museums own anything comparable, said Khawaja, now geology department chairman.
Fulfillment of dream: "Opening a mineral museum at YSU has been a dream of Dr. Khawaja's for years," Smith said. "He's been after me [to donate this collection] for about 15 years."
Not only will the museum offer an excellent learning opportunity for the university's geology students, it will help draw new students and visitors to campus and could serve as a focal point for elementary and high school pupils who visit the university on field trips, said Dr. Charles R. Singler, associate to the dean and a geology professor.
Ordinarily, students would have to travel to see some of the specimens on display, some come from only one place on earth, Singler said. "We've brought the world to them through the generosity of the Smith family. I don't know of another collection at a state university that would compare to this."
The nearest collections that might compare, he added, are at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
The Clarence R. Smith Mineral Museum also will have its own Web page where visitors can study many of the specimens in its collection. The museum is on the ground level of Moser Hall and will open to the public by the end of this month. It was made possible by Smith's friends and business associates who donated construction materials, labor and monetary gifts to transform former classroom space into a first-class gallery.
Who helped: Those friends and associates are AADI Insulation; Boardman Steel; Carney-McNicholas Inc.; Fire Foe Corp.; Hill, Barth & amp; King LLC; Hively Construction; The Home Savings & amp; Loan Foundation; Joe Dickey Electric; Bill and Connie Knecht; MS Consultants; Prout Boiler, Heating & amp; Welding Inc.; Summitville Tile; Robert & amp; Marilyn Sweeney; V & amp;D Painting; Valley Acoustics; Vector Security; Frank and Norma Watson; Western Reserve Mechanical; Winkle Electric Co. Inc.; York-Mahoning Mechanical Contractors; F.W. Knecht III; and David C. Deibel.