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Iron Ore Dedication

May 3, 2016



Welcome! Wow! It’s great to see you all here! I’m Jim Kirkpatrick, dean of the College of Natural Science, and I’ll be your MC for today’s dedication.

We’re glad that you could be with us to help us celebrate the newest acquisition to the college and the Department of Geological Sciences – our very own piece of geologic history in the form of a 29-ton, 2-billion year-old banded iron formation specimen from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, already affectionately known around here as BIF!

We’ve got a great program lined up for you this afternoon.

MSU visiting professor and geology alum Warren Wood who underwrote the project that made this all possible will speak in just a few minutes about how the idea to bring BIF here came about.

You will also hear from President Simon and others about the history and importance of the mining industry to MSU and the state, as well as all that was involved in locating, securing, transporting and placing this extraordinary rock here.

Let me just take a brief moment to say a few words about the significance of this particular rock.

Iron ore was discovered in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 1844. Mining started there in 1846 and continued through the 20th century. The iron and steel that came from that ore played a tremendous role in the industrialization of Michigan and the United States, and had a significant impact on the economics and culture of the state and the country.

The physical presence of this outstanding specimen outside of the Natural Science Building will serve as a touchstone and ongoing reminder of the field’s cultural, historic and scientific value, and will serve as a wonderful tribute to geological sciences at Michigan State.

Finally, this project was a huge undertaking and, on behalf of the college, I’d like to thank Mark Slown and the Ishpeming City Council, Warren Wood, Tom Waggoner, Deb Kinney and everyone involved in bringing this outstanding piece of history to Michigan State.

With that, I’d like to turn the program over to MSU President, Lou Anna K. Simon.


Welcome MSU distinguished guests and Spartans.

As Dean Kirkpatrick mentioned, this rock is an apt reminder of our Department of Geological Sciences, and of the importance of iron and copper mining to Michigan through its long history and of the Spartans who have entered the geology field.

Mining brought people — many of them immigrants — and wealth to the Upper Peninsula, and to the state.

Iron also contributed much to the establishment of the auto industry and other manufacturing in Michigan.

The mine from which this specimen came closed in 1855, the year of MSU’s founding.

But mining was well established in the Upper Peninsula by then.

Geology and mineralogy were among the first disciplines proposed in 1856 for MSU’s scientific course of study.

This banded-iron boulder joins other geological specimens on campus.

There’s “The Rock” down Farm Lane on the north side of the river. Beneath all the paint, it’s a puddingstone pulled from where Michigan and Grand River avenues intersect. It was donated by the Class of 1873 and for many years sat near Beaumont Tower in a grove of evergreens. In the 1940s and 1950s it was known as Engagement Rock for couples planning marriage. Bowing to the inevitability of graffiti, The Rock was moved to the current location in 1985 to better avoid damage to plantings. Today it’s an ever-changing billboard for student causes and interests.

The other notable boulder is a fragment of Halfway Rock, or Split Rock, on the lawn at the southeast corner of the MSU Union. It was part of a larger boulder standing midway between campus and the capitol on East Michigan Avenue. Split by a growing cherry tree, it was a resting point for those traveling between MAC and Lansing in our early years. It was moved here in 1924 to make room for widening of Michigan Avenue. Halfway Rock reminds us of our past, and the other one is very much part of our present.

We can wonder how those who pass this boulder in the generations to come will shape our future. It’s a fitting symbol of the ties that connect us to Michigan and to the Upper Peninsula.

I want to thank City Manager Mark Slown and the people of Ishpeming for donating this fascinating piece of your community. And Dr. Wood, thank you for your efforts to bring it here.

[Dean Kirkpatrick comes back up. Next, Dave Hyndman, geological sciences department chair, who will read Mark Slown’s remarks.]

MARK SLOWN (read by David Hyndman on behalf of Mark):

Unfortunately, Ishpeming City Manager Mark Slown could not be here with us today, so he sent the following message for me to share with you today:

Regrettably, the City of Ishpeming could not send a person to attend this great dedication ceremony today. However, people from Ishpeming, both living and passed away, are with you in spirit, as you celebrate the tremendous history, heritage and geology of Michigan’s iron ore as exemplified by the Banded Iron Formation being dedicated here today.

Thomas Waggoner discovered this “rock with a WOW factor” at the “Little Mountain Mine.” The Little Mountain Mine is in the heart of the “Iron Range” which generated so much culture, commerce, science and history for our great state and for the City of Ishpeming.

Before this rock made its incredible journey to another special place--here outside the Natural Sciences Building--it was one of the largest of a few large boulders resting at the Little Mountain Mine site.

It is a solitary place. Although it is located only a hundred yards from the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, few people ever actually go to the Little Mountain Mine. Currently, it is unmarked and only a few people even know of its existence. Like much of history and geology, it is remarkable, but often unremarked.

When you visit the site, you can almost see the miners working with the ore and boulders, struggling to extract the hard ore and to move it to processing sites in the area. It seems an almost impossible task.

Those were tough and determined people.

We can only imagine that, somehow, in some way, they are here with you today to celebrate this dedication.

Therefore, even though you have only—besides this rock--a few words on a page from the City of Ishpeming, please know that the people of the City of Ishpeming wish you well.

To the NatSci Geological Sciences Department, to Michigan State University, to your students, to all of those who were involved in and contributed generously to this project, and to people who visit this site in the future, we hope you will glimpse and share in a spirit of iron: a spirit of determination and drive to accomplish the nearly impossible. The people of the City of Ishpeming wish you every possible success with this dedication, with your future endeavors and with the education of future generations. May that spirit of iron give you strength.

[Dean Kirkpatrick comes up and introduces Deb Kinney, Landscape Architect for MSU’s Infrastructure, Planning & Facilities]


When I heard that a professor in the geological sciences department was interested in bringing an iron ore boulder to the campus, I thought that was pretty cool. You see, my Croatian grandparents settled in northern Minnesota.

Their street dead-ended and dropped hundreds of feet to the Mesabi Range Mine in Eveleth. My uncles worked in the mines. We visited every summer.

So I met with Warren and we talked about this (yet to be identified) boulder symbolizing the academic program within and as a place to pose for graduation photos.

We talked about the ideal size...4' x 7' x 4' ... It would nestle into the ground just outside the door of the building’s north entrance.

Well, 4’ x 7’ x 4’ ended up being 8' x 7' x 6-1/2', which meant that the planned location needed to shift toward the road.

"Nestling it in" turned into a 3' deep excavation. 16T was now, in reality, 29T... and the crane got a bit bigger.

At daybreak, that crisp late summer morning of Aug. 14, Farm Lane was closed and everything went according to plan. A few of us quickly assessed the best orientation and the crane lowered the rock into place.

Warren also funded the bench, the plaque and the landscape renovation. Students immediately started perching on the boulder. One young man told Nat Sci development officer Karen Wenk and me that it was even cooler than the photo of it that was posted on Facebook - and how appropriate that a Michigan specimen would now grace the department entrance.

As one of my Minnesota relatives might have said "Oh geez, it looks good, hey?!"

Thank you for your vision and generosity, Warren!

[Dean Kirkpatrick introduces Warren Wood]


Thank you, Deb. Again, thank you all for being here!

As you just heard, it was quite a process to get this rock permanently placed on the MSU campus.

But how did the idea of the rock come about? For some time, the Department of Geological Sciences has wanted more visibility for our program. (1) We wanted to find something that would enhance our student’ thinking about deep geologic time and geologic process; (2) it should symbolize the contribution of our graduates; (3) it should recognize the cultural and economic history of the resource extraction in Michigan as you heard President Simon mention; (4) it should pose or recognize a fundamental scientific question or principal; (5) it should recognize the Northern Peninsula’s geologic contribution to the state; (6) and finally it we wanted it to have a WOW factor, like the Polar Bear in the Natural Resources Building.

I offered to assist the faculty, and we went back and forth between a piece of Keweenaw copper or the banded iron formation, or BIF, from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  With the help of Tom Waggoner, a former classmate and alum, we located the BIF you see here. Architecturally, I feel that it’s the right size for the building, its shape is consistent with the collegiate gothic style, its red color picks up the color of the brick and the repeated banding fits well with the symmetry of the horizontal rows of windows

In addition to the logistics here on MSU campus that Deb described, there were some “back stories” in acquiring and moving it to MSU that you might find interesting.

Once we identified BIF and received the donation from the City of Ishpeming, a challenge to the ownership arose as all the original 150 years old land survey markers were gone. Thus, we needed the land surveyed by the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co., the original land owners, who documented that indeed it was owned by the City of Ishpeming.

With this hurdle out of the way, we needed to bring BIF three-quarters of a mile through a 100-year-old second-growth forest. Initially, it was thought that a large front-end loader could be used, but at 58,000 pounds the rock was too heavy and the construction company had to drag the specimen out to the road where a crane could lift it onto a truck.

While waiting for the crane, a former Ishpeming employee threatened the city with a law suit for illegal disposal of government property, insisting that the city must sell BIF to MSU for $58,000. Thus, trucks and cranes had to wait until this legal matter was resolved (fortunately in our favor).

The final little bump in the road was an extra transportation permit required by the trucking company because of the weight and width of BIF crossing the Mackinaw Bridge.

It really took a massive team effort to bring this whole thing together and I’d like to take a minute to add my thank yous – to Tom Waggoner, being my “eyes on the ground” in the UP and who located and identify a suitable sample; to Ishpeming City Manager Mark Slown, who worked with the city council to get this gifted to MSU; to Roger Crimmins of Lindberg & Sons for the recovery of the rock from the mine and, of course, to Deb Kinney and her crew for all of their work in making sure the MSU site was prepped, ready and well-landscaped.

Finally, I would like to complement the administration for the speed at which this process took place. We started in May and completed the move in August. For 40, years I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey in which any change come at glacial speed. I then I taught for a number of years at 800-year old Oxford University in the UK where they still give the commencement ceremony in Latin and nothing changes! The MSU administration performed near the speed of light and was a pleasure to work with them.

Thank you all again for attending this ceremony and for welcoming BIF, our Yooper rock, to the MSU community! Before we head into the reception, I’d like to take this opportunity to present President Simon with a little memento of this occasion – her own slice of BIF! Thank you, Madam President, for making this possible and to quote Mark Slown, “may the spirit of iron give you strength.”


Interim Department Chair:
Dr. Jeffrey Freymueller
  (517) 355-4626

Department Office:
 Natural Science Bldg
288 Farm Lane, Rm 207
East Lansing, MI 48824
  (517) 355-4626
  (517) 353-8787