Rockin’ out in the Bartels Museum
Collection boasts of more than 75 displays from all over the globe
The Bartels Rock Museum contains 75 displays of minerals, agate, fossils and rocks and several hand-carved pieces. These rock specimens have been painstakingly collected and brought to Seward, Nebraska from all over the world. Even though the museum is located in the basement of Link Library, not many are aware that such a collection exists. Caretaker and one of the original architects of the museum, Marvin Plamann, sees the lack of awareness for the Bartels Museum.
“I am aware that not many people know of this place, but I am still proud of this collection,” he said. Plamann, originally from northeastern Kansas, attended Concordia from 1952 – 1956, where he became primarily focused in geography and life sciences. “Coming to Concordia was a new educational adventure,” said Plamann, who would return to teach geography at Concordia in 1961.
Somewhat of a “rock hound” himself, Plamann became acquainted with the Bartels through his studies and teachings at Concordia. Plamann was at Concordia when the museum began in 1983.
“Yes, I remember moving all of this collection into the library,” he said. “Walter had a great, big station wagon, and I had a full size van. Man, could we move a lot of stuff!”
In 1983, Walter and Ella Bartels of Clarinda, Iowa, decided to donate most of their rock collection to Concordia. The couple spent nearly three decades accumulating the various specimens in their collection. During this time, the Bartels also built several displays and traveled to gem and mineral shows, showcasing their unique collection. “Initially the Bartels intended to donate the collection to UNL,” said Plamann. “However, he was very particular with how he wanted his collection displayed, and he was unhappy with how UNL handled his specimens.” So how was Concordia able to obtain such a valuable collection from the Bartels?
The Bartels were members of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and had a connection with Concordia. In addition, President M. J. Stelmachowicz, president of Concordia Teachers College from 1978-1984, worked tirelessly in the effort to bring the Bartels’ collection to Concordia.
As a result, Walter and Ella decided Concordia would be home for their collection, and the process of constructing a museum in Link Library began. “You see, none of this was here in 1983,” says Plamann, referring to the museum. “This was all unfinished, and we had to move everything in and display it in a way that Walter would accept. He had a design for the display cabinets where they were lighted from the top, and the specimens were organized on steps. Once the cabinets were constructed, we set about organizing all the rocks. It was a great deal of work, but I am truly proud of this collection and of this museum.”
The Bartels continued to expand their collection until Walter’s death in 1989. Since Walter’s passing, Ella had enjoyed talking with curious visitors until her death in 1999.
Plamann remained close to the family, stating that Ella would often invite him over for meals at the Bartels’ home. However, with the Bartels gone, Plamann was left with the responsibility for taking care of the museum.
Plamann remains in Seward, taking care of the museum’s intricate displays, making sure that nothing is out of place and that the glass on the displays stays crystal clear.
Plamann’s favorite piece in the museum is the Lepidolite from his personal collection. He further explained how he had to extricate his favorite rock specimen from a mine in New Mexico.
“The mine was completely free, the catch was that you had to be able to carry anything you wanted to keep out of the mine,” Plamann said. “But overall, I’m very proud of this entire collection.” The Bartels Museum has a voluminous collection of rocks and fossils that come from nearly all corners of the globe. For instance, displays include azurite from Brisbane, Australia, several specimens of agate from Brazil, and even a fossilized mammoth elephant tooth from a gravel pit near Fremont, Neb.
By Jacob Lias, originally for the Sower, Concordia's student newspaper