Growing up in the rocky, rolling hills of Lampasas, Merritt Romans at some point began looking down at the variety of rocks.
Curious and quick to learn, the young man became a teacher, principal and curriculum director, taking education posts around central Texas, the Permian Basin and the Fort Worth area before returning with his wife to Lampasas.
Upon retiring 30 years ago, the educator picked up his rock hounding, and like the slow trudge of geology, grew a huge collection of rocks, fossils and gems and an equally amazing store of knowledge.
Along the way, a fellow Lampasas resident and educator, Maureen Adams, found Romans’ name associated with gems available in an area store. She called him and a friendship developed.
Last week, the principal of West Ward Elementary School, two other educators and six students traveled to Lampasas and toured Romans’ building, which is set up like a museum of rock exhibits and cutting and polishing tools.
Monday morning Romans spoke with a small group of science-minded students at West Ward and shared a fraction of his collection.
One was a geode, a bulky, roundish orb about the size of an adult fist. He turned it over, exposing a transparent “window” into the heart of the rock where water sloshed about. Some geodes, he said, contain water. He showed another rock containing lead and one he said was gold ore.
At the other end of the building he took the students and their equally impressed teachers to a table marked “You Never Know,” and began opening up presmashed geodes to reveal pockets of crystal.
Another table contained fossilized starfish, sand dollars and other gill-bearing “cousins,” according to the rock hound.
Romans’ “rock house,” itself a treasure in the midst of acres of hills and grassland, has become a frequent stop for Scouts to earn geology badges as well as rock enthusiasts from all over looking for cellustite and other hill country rock treasures.
The students from Killeen recognized the rarity of stepping into the palace of rock.
“I thought it was amazing,” said fourth-grader Tauream Lewis, who toured the house and heard Romans’ presentation at West Ward. “It was the most exciting time I’ve ever had.”
A bit of a rock enthusiast himself, Lewis explained that “they are all unique treasures from the earth.” He said he would be paying even more attention to rocks.
Adams said she was thrilled to introduce students to such powerful learning. “He is such an expert teacher. They were thoroughly engaged.”
Speaking Monday in the school library, Romans pointed out some of the useful purposes of rocks. Talc powder is made from a rock. Copper and iron can be found in rocks. Fluoride (as in toothpaste) is a rock and so is graphite (pencils) and gypsum (sheetrock).
“Rocks aren’t just useful,” he told the students passing around the samples. “They’re fun.”
Romans displayed magnetic rocks, showed fossils with visible gills and showed off a students’ piece of petrified wood. He showed off colorful geodes, a trilobite (fossilized marine creature) and a collection of quartz.
Third-grade teacher Chele Blaize took careful notes during Romans’ presentation. She is one of the school’s Science Olympiad coaches who will prepare students for a geology event.
“This is a way for kids to see they don’t have to pay money to pick up a rock and have a hobby,” she said. “It’s sort of a new way to think — to go in the backyard and have a hobby. I heard one say he wants to be a geologist.”