Far beneath the Graduate Center, down the winding steps of the Learning Resources Center, hidden from most people, lies a multi-million dollar display of rocks, minerals and petrified wood known as the Elsing Museum.
The Elsing Museum is named after Willard Elsing, a man who had collected rocks and minerals for more than 80 years. Although rock collecting was his lifelong avocation, it eventually led to his vocation. He traveled all over the world for the rocks, which he gathered through bartering and trading. His interest in rocks grew into a lifelong career on Route 66 in Joplin, Missouri, where he set up a rock shop.
Elsing realized that in order for people to continue to enjoy the collection in a public way, he would have to relinquish ownership. In 2001, the collection was handed completely over to Oral Roberts University and in 2017, a rock collector named Gene Cockrell donated his lifetime collection of rocks and petrified wood to be added to the museum.
Today, Roger Bush is the director and curator of the museum, with the help of Associate Professor of Chemistry, Catherine Klehm, as the education director.
The additions from Cockrell give the museum a new edge for prospective vistors.
“It’s gorgeous. What makes this petrified wood valuable and special is that the areas where he collected are now closed off to collectors,” Bush said.
Though the museum is not exactly well-known throughout the school, hundreds of students outside ORU visit regularly on school trips to view the beloved collection.
“Elementary kids, middle school kids, TCC, homeschool kids, boy scouts, girl scouts and retired people come in tour groups,” said Bush. “It’s God’s art. The big thing we’re trying to teach the visitors is what we make from these minerals, and that we must conserve and recycle because we are close to running out of some of these minerals. Recycling is a big thing that we try to teach here.”
In another effort to grow the museum, Bush and his wife also take the Elsing Museum on the road and put it on display in fairs throughout different towns and communities.
The Elsing Museum hopes to continue to grow and become more well known. While three rooms have been dedicated to Elsing’s collection, there are still a number of rocks left in storage due to the limited spaced set aside for the museum.
“A future goal is to have a real internet presence of the museum out there by putting the collection online and have virtual tours where people could go online and look through the rocks,” said Bush. “That’s really going to reach out to others because through it, we’re putting God’s message out there. This is all His art and the beauty of what He gave us. It’s all God’s art.”
The Elsing Museum consists of some of the world’s rarest rocks as well as beautiful gems, minerals, Native Indian and Oriental artifacts, art and much more. Their goal is to try and educate people in the uses for minerals and to encourage more conservation and the recycling of minerals.
The Elsing Museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday at 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in LRC 105C.