A Rockin’ Collection

JMU receives landmark mineral bequest.

JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY IN Harrisonburg recently received a mineral collection valued at more than $16.8 million from the late Peter L. Via of Roanoke; it is the largest gift in the school’s history. Together with previous donations, the minerals form The Peter Via Collection within JMU’s Mineral Museum. Experts describe the minerals, which include tourmaline, topaz, beryl, quartz, and gold, as “chosen for their high quality and aesthetic appeal.”

The university’s collection began in 1976 with donations from numerous private collectors and grew steadily for decades. The Mineral Museum, opened in 2007, has been a popular attraction amongst mid-Atlantic mineral enthusiasts, K-12 school groups, and tourists. The museum has been reorganized and moved to a new space to integrate the Via Collection; a reopening celebration will take place later this year.

JMU is among the few U.S. colleges and universities that houses a geology department, and the interesting features of the Shenandoah Valley have helped the school attract top scholars in the field. The Via Collection solidifies JMU’s position as a mineral destination, according to the Mineralogical Record. Lance Kearns, JMU emeritus professor of geology, curator of the JMU Mineral Museum, and developer of the museum’s JMU Collection, notes that the museum has been invited to display its collection nationally and internationally.

The 314 specimens in the Via Collection are particularly tantalizing because few people have ever seen them. According to Kearns, Via was a Roanoke businessman and philanthropist with an international reputation as a collector who wanted the best example of any specimen, but he was also reclusive and never went out to shows. The university plans to make the collection available to both scholars and the public as part of its mission to provide opportunities for learning to the community. JMU.edu/MineralMuseum


This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue.

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