David Snell

David Snell

1928 - 2010

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Obituary of David Snell

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, September 29, 2010, beloved husband and father, David Erdman Snell, died at Mount Nittany Medical Center, with his wife and his son at his side. He was 82.

The second of three children of the late Walter David and Ruth Helen Snell, Dave grew up in the little town of Weatherly, Pennsylvania, near Hazleton. Lifelong hobbies included photography, radio and electronics, and study of the natural sciences, especially mineralogy and geology.

Dave started college at the Hazleton Center. He served twice in the US Army - first in occupied Japan, then again in Korea. He came to State College in the early 1950's to finish college, obtaining his degree in secondary education, as well as earning his master's credits.

David intended to teach high school science classes, but much to his frustration (and high school science students' loss) he couldn't find a teaching job without being prepared to also coach a sport. However, his desire to teach would benefit kids from all around central Pennsylvania when, in 1953, he managed to turn his hobby of mineralogy into his career when he became curator of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum on the University Park campus until his retirement at the end of 1991.

In his work there, he built up the museum and became widely known for the "technological" flair he brought to its exhibits: Push-button-operated machines that demonstrated various mineral properties. Running the museum on a shoestring budget, and working from his experience of making-do during the Depression, Dave salvaged parts from old pinball machines, washing machines, and scrapped military surplus equipment for use in constructing his own gadgets - gadgets which ran for decades after the parts he used to make them were considered "junk"! Visitors to the museum hallways of Steidle Building could flex a bar of sandstone, hammer on a crystal to see the piezoelectric effect, compare the radioactivity of a radium-dial watch with that of radioactive ore samples, or even strike an 18,000 volt arc across a piece of mica - all controlled from the safety of buttons outside of the display cases!

Over the decades, he gave talks and tours to many thousands of groups that visited the museum, especially school classes on field trips, as well as at numerous other meetings and events. He could also occasionally be spotted with the museum's "traveling exhibits" at Ag Progress Days, mineral shows, and various college campuses.

He got particular joy from demonstrating minerals with unique properties. Those who have seen his demonstrations may remember how he would bend a slab of sandstone with his bare hands, make a quartz crystal whistle until everyone in the room was holding their ears, and show off his favorite pieces - fluorescent minerals - using ultraviolet light to make otherwise drab, gray rocks glow in the dark, lighting up in a spectacular array of colors.

In 1967 Dave married Joann Wiley Work, of State College, and, applying his experience from working with his father (a carpenter and homebuilder), together they began building their own home in the small village of Lemont, where he lived the rest of his life with his wife, and their son John (born in 1970), who survive.

He also volunteered his service as radiological defense officer for Centre County in the 1970's.

Dave was also an amateur radio operator (callsign N3LLQ). Although first licensed in the mid 1960's, he let it lapse, but returned to ham radio upon retirement in the 1990's. Together with his family, he was active with the Nittany Amateur Radio Club, and worked with club members to provide communications for a number of public service events over the years. He was almost a fixture along the route of the Habitat for Humanity Housewalk for many years, all despite a massive stroke in 1993 that left him paralyzed on the left side and largely confined to a wheelchair.

David enjoyed visiting with friends and family and continued attending mineral shows - primarily in eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey - well into his retirement, until health problems of his own and of his family made much travel difficult. He considered the shows much as a family reunion - enjoying the company of fellow collectors and associates befriended over the many years of his professional life.

In addition to his immediate family, Dave also has a sister-in-law, Josephine Snell of Weatherly, one niece, Terry Weichman of Berwyn PA, and three nephews with their wives and children: Ray Weichman, his wife Linda and daughter Holly; Paul Weichman, his wife Jacqueline and daughters Desiree and Denise (and her son Cayden); and Stephen Weichman, his wife Andrea and sons Colton and Chase, all of Weatherly. In addition to his parents, Dave was preceded in death by his sister Marilyn Weichman, of Weatherly, in 2008, and his brother Walter Snell, of Weatherly, in 2009.

The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum (www.sterlinghill.org or (973) 209-7212) or the Nittany Mineralogical Society (www.nittanymineral.org).

The Sterling Hill Mining museum of Ogdensburg, New Jersey, is where Dave's automated mineral exhibits now reside and are proudly displayed (along with the museum's own massive fluorescent mineral displays and many other exhibits) since they acquired his "gadgets" after Penn State closed down much of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum. Donations may be made to Sterling Hill Mining Museum, Attn: Bob Hauck, 30 Plant Street, Ogdensburg NJ 07439

The Nittany Mineralogical Society provides an educational forum for anyone interested in mineralogy from around the Centre Region. Among many other activities, they conduct an annual Minerals Education Day to introduce area children to the science and hobby of mineral collecting, and have provided extensive volunteer support to the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum over the years. Donations may be made to Nittany Mineralogical Society, 2231 West Whitehall Road, State College PA 16801

Joann and John wish to thank both organizations for their generous support of Dave's lifelong work.

A private funeral and graveside services (conducted by Rev. Howard Woodruff of Mt. Nittany United Methodist Church) have been held, and a public celebration of life service is planned for this coming spring.

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