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January 12, 2014

Rock Collector: Indiana Coal Council president loves rocks, fossils and 4-H

You might say Bruce Stevens grew up with lots of pet rocks.

Scavenging for rocks and fossils as a boy near his home at Coalmont launched Stevens’ fascination with geology. His love of all things sedimentary led him to a successful career in hydrology, reclamation and the coal industry.

“As a kid, I lived next door to a previously coal mined area where there was a plethora of specimens on the ground surface,” Stevens said. “My cousin, Randy Snellenberger, and I were always checking out for rocks and fossils around the coal mines. We’d pick up buckets full and sit around cracking open fossils.”

Stevens’ joining 4-H in 1973 enabled him to turn his rock and fossil collections into geology projects. “Of all my 4-H projects, fossils were my favorite. In 1977, my Clay County 4-H geology project was selected to go to the Indiana State Fair. It was like Christmas morning trying to find my project and its placing at the state fair. My second year geology project at the state fair got me the sweepstakes, or grand champion, ribbon.

“4-H played a very pivotal role in my ultimate career ambition,” he said.

Receiving his bachelor’s degree in geology from Indiana State University further prepared Stevens for his 24 years with Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources. His surface and ground water hydrologist position prepared him for becoming IDNR’s division director. “These positions provided the opportunities to meet lots of new people including Dr. Nelson Shaffer with the Indiana Geological Survey. One day when I was talking with Dr. Shaffer he said he was going to judge geology projects at the state fair. Through that conversation we realized he had judged my state fair projects!”

Stevens is now a licensed professional geologist and has traveled all over the country representing environmental and coal-related issues. This experience recently garnered him his new position of president of the Indiana Coal Council, Inc.

“While 90 percent of my professional time is now spent on clean air issues because coal mining is a regulatory process, I’m fortunate I get to spend my days in an industry that brought me joy growing up hunting for rocks and running around with my friends. It’s very humbling to have this position and represent companies and coal miners. There are no finer people than coal miners. My job is to do anything I can to make sure electricity is safe and affordable for Indiana residents.”

4-H is still a big part of Stevens’ life. He is part of the Clay County 4-H Council, his wife Monica and daughter Chelsea are active 4-H alumni, and his son, Cory, a sophomore at Shakamak High School, is still in 4-H.

“Our local 4-H clubs have always been led by tremendous leaders like Barbara Miller, Ada Nuckolls, Jim Stevenson and Sue Urban,” Stevens said. “Pretty much every kid I knew growing up was in 4-H and there are still great opportunities like going to Washington, D.C. and the 4-H workshops at Purdue. We have an awesome Purdue Extension Educator in Tammy Steiner. Extension is a huge part of her life and she makes sure kids do not only projects but valuable community and fairgrounds service projects as well.”

Steiner says Stevens sets a volunteer precedent in his commitment with the organization. “When I first sat down with other educators to hear Bruce tell his 4-H story, he just glowed. All of our volunteers are so important to 4-H programs, however when you have a volunteer whose life has been so impacted by 4-H the whole way through, they bring a new level to the experience. Bruce makes sure every kid gets the most they can get out of 4-H.”

Stevens is very grateful to be a part of 4-H throughout his life. “I’m so thankful my early interests in rocks and fossils led to my career and that 4-H really cemented that interest. I’m very proud of the Clay County 4-H organization. A judge in Clay County once said he had never had a youth from 4-H in front of him in court. That speaks to the value, encouragement and commitment of adults, youth and parents involved in such a great organization.”

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