John W. Taber
1915 - 1997
Ultimate Field Trip"
This soil is basically
stardust, you know.
in his garden, geologist John W. Taber liked to invite speculation
or controversy by introducing such science-based whimsy into the
conversation. He loved the Earth and thought of it as an immense
arena for examination, study, appreciation, reflection, and wonder.
His delight in regarding humble substances as celestial material
On February 23, 1997, at age 81, our husband, father,
and grandfather, John Taber, died at Hamilton, Montana. A fighter
to the end, he had undergone four major heart surgeries in the
last sixteen years.
John was born at Klamath Falls, Oregon, on September
21, 1915. He spent his youth in the Northwest where his family
moved frequently, inventively surviving during the years of The
Great Depression. He worked his way through Washington State University,
marrying his college sweetheart Helen Robards in 1938 while still
in school. On a study break, he found work as an underground mine
mucker which readily convinced him of the need to return to school
for his professional degree in Mining Geology.
Mr. Taber began his career as a junior engineer
with the U.S. Bureau of Mines. He was selected by that agency
for its strategic minerals research and exploration program during
World War II to locate and provide mineral resources critical
to the war effort. After the war, he became chief examining engineer
of the Northwest Region of the Bureau of Mines.
In 1952, Mr. Taber found his life work in Hamilton,
a small town in the scenic Bitterroot Valley of Montana where
he was a partner in the Crystal Mountain Mining Company. This
property became the largest open pit fluorspar mine in the world
at that time. The concentrated product, fluorite, was a flux in
the smelting process of steel. Among other things, it also was
a component of ceramic materials used in rocket nose cones. Scandium,
a rare earth mineral by-product extracted from the mine tailings,
later was found to be valuable for scientific research in laser
In his late forties, John earned a private pilot's
license which offered among other things a chance to view the
land from a new perspective. He extended his insatiable fascination
with the Earth to the origins of celestial bodies and their relationship
to this planet. In meditative moments, he was fond of studying
the luminous night sky to speculate on the almost incomprehensible
concepts of space, time, and matter. From community service connections
teaching Earth science and geology for adult education programs,
John became consultant/counselor to local rockhounds and hobby-prospectors.
Several members of John's extended family were
military careerists with connections to rocket/missile technology
and NASA. Following their work fueled his interest in related
technological innovations. He was a staunch defender and proponent
of the space program. His family and friends recall his appreciation
for the dramatic peripheral influences of space research on modern
Those close to John share a familiar image of him
turning a rock sample in his large, capable hand, scratching at
it with the tip of his handy pocketknife blade to determine its
relative hardness, peering through his twenty-power hand lens,
then sharing his observations in a rich story of the rock's probable
John W. Taber is survived by wife, Helen, daughters
Lynn and Jeannie, sons-in-law Bob and Ken, grandchildren Kirstin
and Brian, plus Cougar the cat. We all knew him as a man of many
"hats" and talents: Geologist, Fluorspar Mine Manager,
He leaves us with a wealth of tools and insights.
GEOLOGIST JOHN W. TABER RETURNS TO STARDUST ON
THE ULTIMATE FIELD TRIP - SECOND CELESTIS LAUNCH, THE AD ASTRA