Our friend Benji Kuehling passed away recently after a short illness. While he was a major mineral collector, I think he had as many friends as he did minerals, a true testament to the friendly and open nature of this kind man. It is hard to imagine anyone as active as Benji in the later stages of life. He never slowed down until the end. I knew him as a wonderful man, full of life, who loved rocks, minerals and mining – especially artifacts, and the constant hot pursuit for these.
Benji ran into me long, long ago at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show – he had a way of finding people. For more than twenty five years he constantly tried to get me to Ouray. As a mining geologist, I was lucky enough to work ore deposits all over Nevada, California and parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and other places, but never got a chance to work in the San Juans. Interestingly, one of my professors got his PhD on San Juan geology, so I had been filled with stories of this fantastic region long before I met all my Colorado friends. I finally got there a few years ago and spent the better part of a week with Benji showing me all his favorite haunts. The first morning set the stage. Benji told me about a new trail built in the mountains around the town, and off I went, running by old mine sites, through a tunnel carved in a cliff and more. My most memorable trip with him was to the Sunnyside mine, where we hiked out along the ridge under the old tram line, where I found a heck of a nice huge chunk of high grade ore that had fallen out of a tram bucket. I persuasively twisted his arm and he made me a beautiful pair of bookends, I’m sure the last of them that he made.
Many of you have seen his massive mineral collections, which are planned to keep intact and open to the public – a big plus for Ouray. Somewhere in his massive mineral collection are some great quartz crystals I sent him from Placerville, the center of the Motherlode country.
Benji’s proudest achievement, which I heard about many times, was that he could provide for his family without having a formal advanced education. He found a way to excel in a business of his own creation, while at the same time accumulating real estate to ensure longevity.
I have long enjoyed an equal friendship with his best friend, another ore deposits geologist like myself, and fondly recall Benji telling me “not to tell him what I’m up to” otherwise he would “snatch it up.” It was always good for a laugh. He created laughs for the whole office, and his favorite target was Uwe. We always knew when Benji called, because Uwe would be doubled over with laughter.
Benji had a special eye for collectibles. His brass early car accoutrement collection is remarkable, as are his collections of minerals, San Juan collectibles and mining artifacts of all sorts. He certainly enjoyed adding to them from our company!
RIP Benji- We’ll never forget him.