John Speer went to a YMCA camp when he was 10 years old and discovered a passion he would pursue his entire life.
“Back then, everybody who went to camp was looking for a new hobby, whether it be building model airplanes or taking archery,” Speer said. “I happened to hit on the rocks and minerals.”
Speer was fascinated at the rock formations he found on the side of the road in Cedar Mountain, N.C. He started collecting rocks and minerals that week and books about rocks and minerals when he got home.
Speer learned their colors and shapes and where they were found in the world. He participated in local, state and regional science fairs and joined rock and mineral clubs in North and South Carolina.
Over the years, Speer’s fascination with rocks and minerals grew, and so did his collection. When he started a family, he and his wife, Nancy, included rock collecting in their vacation plans.
“We often planned our summer vacations to national parks out west and to the North Carolina mountains,” Speer said. “Later in life, the two of us enjoyed trips to Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, and Europe.”
All in all, Speer’s collection grew to more than a thousand rocks and minerals fit to be displayed in a museum. He had them on display in his garage in Anderson.
Now a retired pharmacist, Speer also amassed a collection of antique pharmacy items over the years. These he displayed at the family drug store, the Orr-Gray Drug Store, also in Anderson.
Two years ago, Speer’s son asked him what he planned to do with his two collections. Speer considered donating them to Clemson University, near his home, or to the University of Georgia, his alma mater, but decided instead to donate them to PC.
The universities already had extensive collections. Plus, Speer is Presbyterian, and his grandson, Matthew, is now a sophomore at PC. Speer’s collection of rocks and minerals is now housed in Lassiter Hall.
“The collection that John put together over the many years is a beautiful example of a ‘labor of love,’” said Dr. Mike Rischbieter, professor of biology at PC.
Rischbieter was instrumental in bringing the Speer Collection to PC.
“This collection is also a testimonial to the attention to detail that it takes to procure and maintain a world-class collection,” Rischbieter added. “Every specimen has all of the data associated with it to determine provenance and other information to accurately assess the type and value of each specimen.”
Rischbieter incorporates Speer’s collection of rocks and minerals into his paleontology course. He has also noticed students looking at the collection outside of class.
“I love the fact that almost every day when I walk by the display in Lassiter Hall, there are students looking at the specimens with an enthusiasm I never imagined possible,” Rischbieter said. “It is great to think that these displays will continue over time to engage students and all of those that view these specimens in the incredible wonders of nature, and the beauty that was created by the various geological forces over time.”
Speers’ collection of pharmacy items is displayed at the PC School of Pharmacy. Some are in the compounding lab, while others can be found on display in the administration area of the school.
“The collection of these bottles and other pharmacy equipment provides students with a perspective of how pharmacy has progressed over the years and the differences in chemicals and medicines used over that period,” said Dr. Cliff Fuhrman, dean of the PC School of Pharmacy.
Speer is happy that the “labor of love” he began when he was 10 years old are at a place they can be appreciated.
“I am happy that my collection has found a wonderful home in this fine college,” Speer said.
This year John and Nancy Speer are being inducted into the William Plumer Jacobs Society for their generous contribution to the College.
The induction into the society named after the founder of the College reminds Speer of the times he brought gifts to children at Thornwell, also founded by Jacobs, when Speer was in junior high school.
“It’s humbling to be associated with the founder of Thornwell and PC,” Speer said. “It’s quite an honor for my family and me to be inducted into an organization that bears William Plumer Jacobs’ name.”
John Speer is one of the newest inductees into the William Plumer Jacobs Society. To learn about the other inductees, please visit the WPJ Society page.