Gift from late lecturer’s estate continues his educational mission

December 4, 2017

Lecturer Terry Ostrom’s 5,000-piece collection of museum-grade minerals, panned gold and fossils was donated to UM-Dearborn’s Department of Natural Sciences.

Ostrom Collection
Ostrom Collection

The late Terry Ostrom’s College of Engineering and Computer Science colleagues knew the longtime mechanical engineering lecturer as a “walking encyclopedia of materials science.”

But, in addition to his interest in new and advanced materials, Ostrom enjoyed finding nature-made ones.

Ostrom, who died Sept. 11 at 74, continued a collection started by his father Jerry approximately a century ago that has museum-grade minerals, panned gold, interesting fossils and more.

Through a gift to UM-Dearborn made by Ostrom’s sister, Patricia Kohnen, in his memory, the approximately 5,000-piece collection now is part of the Department of Natural Sciences. The department plans to make the materials available for classroom teaching and showcase parts of the Ostrom Collection in the Natural Sciences Building’s geological sciences display cases beginning this winter.

“Professor Ostrom's sister wanted to further his love of learning and teaching students through the donation of his mineral collection; she realized it is what he would have wanted,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement Kevin McAlpine, noting that Terry Ostrom’s home had several items in the collection carefully displayed in his living room, along with a basement storage area—about 10 x 15 feet—filled from top to bottom with the collection. “Professor Ostrom’s father began his collection at the turn of the century in New Mexico where precious finds, at the time, where plentiful. This mineral and precious stone collection that the Ostroms spent time gathering and studying will be appreciated by generations of UM-Dearborn students to come.”

When Geology Professor Jacob Napieralski viewed the collection at Ostrom’s home, he recognized the amount of effort that went into it.

Napieralski, holding trilobite fossils in a box marked “Prairie Expedition, Utah, 1962,” said many of the items in the collection were found in nature, personally collected by the Ostroms.

“When I first saw this truly exceptional collection, there were lenses, chisels, camping gear, fishing lures and more alongside of it. These men were field scientists in every sense of the word,” Napieralski said. “Even though Terry went in a different direction professionally, he maintained and continued the collection his father started with care.”

The Ostrom Collection display initiative is led by Napieralski and two undergraduate students, geology senior Sean Hyde and biology junior William Robertson. After hearing about the Ostrom Collection, both students volunteered to assist Napieralski with organizing the large acquisition.

“To me, this is better than Christmas,” said Robertson, walking from one end of the Geology Lab to the other, showing a plethora of items they’ve opened, classified, numbered and recorded into an Excel file. “Most of these boxes have been sealed for decades. And now we have a chance to get pieces out of storage and give them a rightful place in the display.”

Both students—who work with the Ostrom Collection in the Geology Lab a few times a week—have dug in the dirt for special finds like these as long as they can remember.

And now, through this gift, they’re able to work with the most extensive collection either of them have seen.

“Both of us have always had a passion for rocks and minerals. Now, in a professional setting, we have the opportunity to apply that passion. But this is about more than minerals—it’s anthropological too,” said Robertson, showing notations about collected pieces that Jerry or Terry Ostrom had written. “As we go through each box, we are discovering more and more about Dr. Ostrom and his father. Two people who are no longer here, but have given us an important collection to learn from.”