Gem and mineral gallery renamed to honor Jewelers Mutual’s CEO

The Jayem Gallery of Gems and Minerals in Neenah, Wisc., was renamed the R. Harder Gallery of Gems and Minerals and an endowment to sustain the gallery was created to honor Jewelers Mutual’s CEO Ron Harder.

Jeweler’s Mutual, under Harder’s leadership, established the gallery in 1998 at the company’s headquarters when it completed a 34,000 square-foot expansion. The gallery houses on the nation’s largest private collections of gemstones and minerals in their natural form. The insurer made the renaming official during its annual policyholder meeting on Wednesday.

Patti Geolat, Jewelers Mutual’s board chair and owner of an independent firm that specializes in appraising jewelry, fine art, and collectibles, made the announcement and unveiled the new gallery logo. Harder will retire in May 2007. As part of the succession plan, Harder’s retirement plans were announced last year, and Darin Kath was promoted to company president.

“Ron was instrumental in forming the gem and mineral gallery and this is one way we can honor him for his commitment to education and the jewelry industry,” Geolat said.

To create an endowment for the gallery, Jewelers Mutual partnered with the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region in Appleton, Wisc. The Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals and businesses distribute charitable gifts to enhance the quality of life in the local area. Since 1986, the foundation has awarded more than $70 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and is the second largest community foundation in Wisconsin.

Through the foundation, scholarships will be awarded in Harder’s name to local students who are studying geology at local universities and those who are studying gemology at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, Ca.

“Knowing that Ron will retire next year, people have asked about a gift for Ron,” Geolat said. “This endowment through the Community Foundation provides an opportunity for those individuals who wish to recognize Ron with a contribution in his name.”

Harder’s passion for the jewelry industry began in 1973, more than 33 years ago, when he joined Jewelers Mutual. In 1982, Harder became president. He began collecting specimens for the gallery from gem and mineral shows in Tucson, Ariz., and gem dealers. His personal favorite is the gallery’s rhodochrosite specimen, a mineral found in a Colorado mine, which Harder had an opportunity to visit.

“When we opened the gallery, our goals were to raise local community awareness of the beauty of gemstones and minerals and encourage young people to consider a career in the jewelry industry,” Harder said. “We’ve seen a wide range of visitors from grade school students studying earth science to geology students from local universities to Boys and Girl Scout clubs earning badges, to the general public, as well as people from all over the world. With the help of the Community Foundation, the gallery will continue to offer an opportunity for people of all ages to learn more about the beautiful and one-of-a-kind raw materials, some of which are used in the jewelry industry.”

A five-member board of directors established for the gallery include: Harder and Kath; Merton Arntzen, former owner of Viking Steel in Oshkosh, Wis.; Amy Helein, owner of Helein Jewelers, a retail jewelry business in Appleton, Wis.; and Gene LaBerge, a retired geology professor from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday during Jewelers Mutual’s regular business days. Call toll 800-558-6411 or locally at 725-4326, and ask for the gallery manager.