Remembering Allen Heyl


Allen V. Heyl, one of America's outstanding workers in geology throughout the last half of the 20th century, died at a hospice near his home in Evergreen, Colorado on October 24, 2008 at the age of 90 after a brief bout with pneumonia.   Allen left the scientific study of geology with scores of his observations and interpretations in a multitude of articles and books. Jay L. Lininger measured the strike of Allen's life and career in a biographical tribute entitled Allen V. Heyl:  Colorado's (and America's) Consummate Economic Mineralogist published in MATRIX (V9N3, pgs.128-136). 

For many of us who belong to the Friends of Mineralogy, Pennsylvania Chapter, however, our good warm personal memories of Allen remain his most valuable legacy.

Johnny Johnsson, PA-FOM member and mining historian, recalls the time Allen showed up on his doorstep in Finksburg, Maryland and the two enjoyed a long chat that evening on all kinds of Maryland chrome and copper mining sites.  Johnny was researching the history of the mineral carrollite from the Patapsco copper mine at the time and Allen later provided verifying information surrounding the identity of the species and a first-hand account of a 1940s field trip to the locality.

He wrote letters answering questions and detailing his thoughts, as well as reviewing Johnny's draft paper which was published in MATRIX in 1998 (V6N9, PGS 43-55).  Johnny says Allen's collaborative works with Nancy Pearre have as the foundation of Johnny's ongoing research into the mining history of Maryland.

Allen’s former colleague at the United States Geological Survey, Nancy Pearre Lesure, shares that "It was both a pleasure and an education to work with Allen back in the 1950s, and to help him map those old mines in Maryland and Pennsylvania. He had an amazing memory, a very sharp eye, and a keen sense of humor. He and Mickey (Allen's wife, Maxine, who died in 1993) were wonderful friends, and I enjoyed many visits with their family during those years. His was a rich and productive life." Nancy and her husband, Frank--both now retired from the USGS--reside in Frederick, Maryland.

Andrew Sicree, professional mineralogist and former board member of national FOM, says, "I had the honor of getting to know Allen over the years. We first met when I was working on my Ph.D. thesis, studying sphalerite and galena from the Upper Mississippi Valley district in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. Allen, of course, wrote the seminal paper on the UMV district for the U.S. Geological Survey. He'd been the Survey's leading zinc expert for years. He knew and understood just about every economic occurrence of zinc mineralization in the U.S. I met him when he came to speak at Penn State. We became friends, and I learned a lot of economic geology and mineralogy from him."

Andy continues, "After Allen retired from the Survey, I had an opportunity to spend some time with him in the field on several occasions. When I went to Denver for the Denver Mineral Show, I always tried to stay on for a day or two after the show. Allen and I would spend the days driving around the Colorado mountains." Andy especially remembers they spent two days once in Leadville exploring mine dumps. "Allen had been the USGS Leadville expert for a number of years and was familiar with every mine in the district.  He had a four-wheel drive and would go charging up hills, down roads and through the brush, driving off-road with a confidence I never had. I was sure we'd end up upside in some gulch, but we never did. When we stopped at a dump, I could always rely on Allen's keen eye to pick out (and identify) some unusual mineral."

Juliet Reed, Associate Curator, The Bryn Mawr College Mineral Collections, reflects on Allen’s generosity especially in donating his 1,500-specimen Pennsylvania mineral collection to Bryn Mawr College. She says the collection includes specimens Allen personally collected or acquired as gifts from the 1930s to the 1990s mainly from the classic localities in the southeastern part of the state. Juliet has created a special exhibit in the Pennsylvania cases of the College’s Geology Department showing 42 specimens of mineral species new to Pennsylvania from both Allen’s minerals as well as James Quickel’s Pennsylvania collection.

Martin Anné, a founding member of the Pennsylvania Chapter, FOM, and compiler of the latest list of PA mineral species, recalls Allen's enthusiasm for all natural history, not just minerals. On a FOM field trip together at the Wood's chromite mine years ago, Marty says he heard Allen let out this loud whoop.  Marty rushed over to Allen, expecting to see some terrific mineral specimen that Allen unearthed from the old dumps. Instead, Allen showed him a small orchid in bloom. Allen told him excitedly how this rare orchid only grew here in the serpentine barrens, and that he knew it existed, but never before found one.

 The last time I visited with Allen Heyl took place in June 2004 at the Pennsylvania Mineral Symposium on the Penn State campus. Allen spoke Saturday morning at the event on the topic "PA minerals still easily collected."  I followed him with a slide presentation on classic Pennsylvania minerals from the Genth Collection. 

Frederich August Genth wrote the first statewide report on the mineralogy of Pennsylvania in 1875. He also served as Chief Chemist to the Second Pennsylvania Geological Survey, while at the same time teaching and operating an analytical research lab at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Some how, years after Genth's death, the then Penn State College's, School of Mineral Industries induced Genth's heirs to move his mineral collection from Penn and install it at Penn State. Despite the importance of this acquisition, I could never found any details about this academic coup in any of the paperwork connected with Genth's collection.

 When the symposium broke for lunch, Jay Lininger and I rounded up Allen and headed downtown for something to eat. On our stroll to the restaurant, Allen--a virtual walking encyclopedia of mineralogy--revealed the story how Penn State got Genth's minerals. Allen said he came to Penn State College in 1937, studying under the renowned economic geologist Dr. Arthur P. Honess. He remembered that Honess convinced Genth's daughter to donate the collection to Penn State.  When it arrived at the School of Mineral Industries--Allen thought around 1941--Honess kept it under lock and key, but entrusted Allen to prepare and organize this priceless scientific heritage. Sadly, having personally examining that great collection, I surmise that in the six plus decades under Penn State’s custody the only care it ever received likely came from Allen. 

Andy Sicree summed up quite well what many of us feel about Allen, “He was a great guy and a great geologist, always willing to teach, always willing to be a friend. He will be missed. Requiescat in Pace."