Riverview Kids Rock Out to Unique Project

Murray ~ Riverview Junior High has become the School of Rocks. But there's nary an instrument to be seen, unless you count the black light.

A project to preserve the lifetime rock collection of the late Olivia McHugh, an optometrist whose family has Murray roots, has students creating a catalogue of rocks, entering that catalogue into a computer database, and compiling a biography of McHugh.

Fred Allen, a member of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association, each year dreams up what he calls a "legacy project" for students. When he saw the disorganized collection of rocks sitting in Riverview six months ago, he knew he had a winner.

"We have a great teaching tool here that nobody can use," he remembered thinking six months ago. "I knew we could make this a more valuable asset to the school."

Riverview inherited the collection, which originally included rocks from all over the world, from Hillcrest High School, which inherited it from Murray High. Along the way, pieces have disappeared or been given to rock-struck students. But there's still enough to fill a wall of display cases in the Riverview library.

"This is amazing, that you can find so much of this," said Cameron Kidd, a 9th grader who was in charge of recruiting students for the project.

"I can't believe she collected all these," added Scott Fink, another 9th grader also working on the project. "I heard some of these rocks came from Brazil."

McHugh, who was born in Utah in 1911, did in fact travel the world pursuing her hobby. While she made her living as an optometrist like her father, she was relentless in adding to a collection that eventually took over her basement, said Dick Taggart, executor of her estate. McHugh died in 1982 at the age of 70, following a stroke.

"I'm just thrilled to death that it's being displayed and property marked," said Taggart, who knew McHugh well and described her as an "independent" woman.

McHugh never married and thus had no heirs to inherit the collection, which was first offered to the University of Utah and then to Murray High when the U. declined.

"She loved what she was doing with the rocks," Taggart said.

McHugh also wrote poetry, which Riverview students discovered as they searched through a box of letters, magazines and photos for the biographical scrapbook they're compiling.

"We can't find any evidence of her getting married," said student Sarah Prestwich as she sifted through photos and documents.

"She got a C in chemistry," offered Karly Willes, a tidbit she gleaned from an old report card.

"But she aced everything else," added Sarah Ng.

Allen enlisted the Wasatch Gem and Mineral Society to help with the project. Earlier this week, the society's Rennie Cooper was there with a black light and a shortwave light, showing students how a "Christmas tree" rock from Franklin, N.J., actually lights up with holiday colors.

"It was pretty fun and interesting," said Justin James of his work on the computer end of the project. "This was my first time doing stuff like this."

Salt Lake Tribune Article
March 12, 2009
Author: Anne Wilson