2011 Donna Nolte Award
Burnell “Burnie” Franke began his fascination with rock collecting in the late 1950s, when some friends took him hunting for petrified wood in Montana. Little did they know what kind of Pandora’s Box they were opening! He enjoyed it so much that he would return many times through the years to Tom Miner Basin, now a part of the Gallatin Petrified Forest.
Back home in Madison, Burnie became a cook at the Brooks Street YWCA, and as his rock interest flourished, he was given a workshop in the basement. Eventually, so many people found their way to him that he decided to open up a shop full-time. He found a storefront not far from the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium. Soon enough, he had hired some part-time help, and increased his offerings from rocks and specimens to jewelry supplies and lapidary tools.
In the 1970s, as the counter-culture flourished, the pet shop up the street posted “GET STONED AT BURNIE’S”, a comical sign of the times which found its way to T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers around the country. By this time Burnie had been instrumental in founding the Madison Community Center Lapidary and Mineral Club. His wife Marilee taught English in Jefferson; the family resided there, and Burnie commuted to the Mad City. Madison Area Technical College began offering classes in lapidary, and he became the instructor. Around this time, Burnie and family were instrumental in founding the Rock River Valley Geological Society (AKA the Jefferson Rock Club), which, like the Madison club, has hosted an annual show since its inception.
Marilee, son Nevin and daughter Becky helped search for rocks during summer trips to Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, and made many outings to Prairie du Chien for Lake Superior agates. Eventually, scores of lapidary students would be introduced to the joys of agate hunting by Burnie. They were also enthralled by the mandatory stops at the Phetteplace Museum in Wauzeka where Joe Phetteplace showcased his amazing stone and shell intarsia work.
In 1977, a bank purchased the building Burnie had been renting and a new home was found on East Johnson Street, where the rock shop still operates today. A large vault was procured, the old wood floors were stripped, and the former George’s Grocery Store became a well-known specialty and gift shop. By now, Burnie’s staff included some amazing folks: Frank Love, a retired railroad man who exhibited his fine gemstone eggs at the Madison Gem Shows, Helen Anderson, a bead enthusiast whose daughter Kristin Anderson is a very well-known enamellist, and Dian Peck, a metalsmith who still works at the shop and displays her hand-made jewelry.
After many years in retail (and a major heart attack), Burnie decided to slow down. In 1997 he sold the shop to a partnership of former clients. He remained a presence at the shop and continued to offer his merchandise on consignment, however the partnership dissolved and the business suffered. Nevin, who was already doing lapidary full-time, decided to purchase the business in 1999. Now, he and his wife Sonali continue to run the shop and have expanded its offerings. Still active in the Madison Gem and Mineral Club and at the shop, Burnie, now in his 87th year, enjoys sharing his collection at home along with his famous home-made pies, jams and jellies.