With humble beginnings as a homeless orphan in Youngstown, Ohio, Clarence R. Smith Sr.’s apprenticeship with a local grocer at age 10 nurtured his business mindset. After first gaining experience as an ironworker, Smith Sr. created his own structural steel company, Diamond Steel Construction, in 1928. The “diamond” part of the company name was in reference to the nickname of the central square of downtown Youngstown, but it would also foreshadow Smith’s future as a mineral enthusiast.
Smith Sr. became acquainted with the hobby of rock and mineral collecting in 1959 when his wife’s health prompted the couple to spend winters in Arizona. A frequent traveler, Smith Sr. began acquiring geological specimens from all over the world. By 1962, he had amassed enough pieces to open his own rock shop, Adamas Art and Hobby Shop, within a barn at his home in Boardman, Ohio. Adamas, from the Greek word for “diamond,” was a nod to his steel company.
It was this barn-based rock shop that attracted the attention of Youngstown State University (YSU) professor and then chair of the Department of Geology Dr. Ikram Khawaja. Noting a lack of geological specimens within the department, Dr. Khawaja reached out to Smith Sr. in 1969 and asked to borrow a few pieces from the collection for an educational presentation. When Dr. Khawaja returned the box of approximately 25 minerals, Smith Sr. generously suggested they be kept at YSU if they could be used for instruction. Smith Sr. passed away the following year.
Following his father’s death in 1970, Clarence R. Smith Jr. moved the collection from the barn to his business, the former Adamas Jewelry & Gifts located at 8391 Market Street in Boardman. Smith Jr. continued to add to the collection as he had also developed an interest in the acquisition of rare and valuable minerals. Meanwhile, Dr. Khawaja, who was regularly purchasing pieces from Adamas to build up the Geology Department’s collection, continued contact with Smith Jr. and was encouraging him to consider donating it to the university. By the late 1990s, Dr. Khawaja had persuaded him.
The Museum Opens
With a generous donation of valuable minerals on its way to the YSU campus, Dr. Khawaja set to work creating the collection’s new home. The Department of Geology shared Moser Hall with the William Rayen College of Engineering and Technology, and the space in which the museum now sits was formerly a storage area for survey equipment used by civil engineering students. Fortunately the Rayan College was willing to give up this space. Next came the design for the museum. Ideas were gathered from existing mineral displays at both the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Finally, the issue of funding had to be solved. Many business associates of Smith Jr. graciously donated money and resources toward the construction of the museum, and their generosity is still acknowledged on a plaque outside the museum’s entrance.
For two months leading up to the museum’s inauguration, Dr. Khawaja and fellow professors Dr. Charles Singler, Dr. Jeffrey Dick, and Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer, along with other geology staff and student volunteers, would spend weekends packing, labeling, and transporting the donated items from the Adamas shop to campus. On Saturday, June 16th, 2001, the Clarence R. Smith Mineral Museum was ready to open. The dedication ceremony, which commenced at 6 p.m. that day, included a ribbon cutting and hors d’oeuvre reception as well as remarks from YSU Director of Development Mr. Paul J. McFadden, YSU President Dr. David C. Sweet, Department of Geology Chair Dr. Ikram Khawaja, and, of course, Mr. Clarence R. Smith Jr.
At its inception, the Clarence R. Smith Mineral Museum was managed by YSU’s Department of Geology which has since been renamed the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. The museum was operated under the direction of Robert “Bob” Coller until his death in 2017.
A university-funded renovation in 2016, which included LED lighting, new labels for the minerals on display, furniture, and a paint job, helped maintain and update the already elegant and warm atmosphere that museum visitors still appreciate to this day.
The Clarence R. Smith Mineral Museum remains a free resource serving YSU faculty, staff, and students as well as the local community. The museum is a favorite destination among professional geologists, amateur “rock hounds”, school groups, families, and more. Museum visitors regularly include: college students stopping in for fun between classes or to complete academic assignments using the museum’s collection, K-12 school groups participating in various field trip offerings, scout troops completing geology merit badge requirements, homeschool families incorporating the collection into their curriculum, and preschool classes exposing young children to the beauty and excitement of the natural world.
YSU students majoring in geology or environmental science are able to seek employment in the museum and are responsible for monitoring the museum during public hours. Currently, the museum is able to welcome visitors four days a week while the fall and spring semesters are in session, thanks to a budget for student employees. The student employees are supervised by a museum specialist, who oversees museum operations by curating the collection, creating and implementing field trips and other educational programs, participating in public outreach and community events, and maintaining the museum’s Facebook page.
Over the past two decades, the museum’s collection has expanded thanks to donations from individuals around the area. However, the majority of the museum’s specimens are still the product of the Smith family’s generosity. While the beautiful displays showcase hundreds of geological materials in the gallery-style public area of the museum, these pieces represent only the tip of the iceberg, as thousands of additional minerals are kept in behind-the-scenes storage areas. This “hidden” portion of the collection is separated into two main categories: museum pieces, for high-quality specimens that are occasionally rotated into the display cases, and educational pieces, which are used during museum events and field trips and borrowed by YSU faculty for use in the classroom.