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Grotto draws people to West Bend, Iowa

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 10/10/2012 1:08 PM

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WEST BEND, Iowa — A century ago, Father Paul Dobberstein began construction on the Grotto of Redemption.

Dobberstein worked 42 years to fulfill a promise he made when he was critically ill with pneumonia.

Preparatory work began a decade earlier, when Dobberstein began collecting rocks and precious stones from around the world. West Bend was chosen because that is the parish he was assigned to.

An estimated 100 rail car loads of rocks, stones and petrified wood were brought to the site and handled many times as they were sorted and stored before finally finding their place in the Grotto of Redemption.

Dobberstein worked alone on the project until Father Louis Greving became his full-time assistant in 1946. It took 80 years of dedicated, manual labor to build the shrine.

Geologist Raymond Anderson visited West Bend Sept. 8 to talk about the rocks. A geologist for 40 years, he never tires of coming to the Grotto.

"The Grotto of the Redemption is certainly the most impressive collection of rocks and minerals that I have ever seen," said Anderson. "With a value of several million dollars, they are not only a wonderful collection of individual — and in some cases — museum quality specimens. When I think of the work required to collect, prepare and build the structures, the Grotto represents an attraction that is unique in the world."

Rocks are naturally-occurring and made up of a non-orderly combination of minerals. For example, rock granite may be made up of the minerals feldspar, quartz, hornblende and biotite.

Anderson talked about where some rocks in the Grotto may have come from.

"The barite rock, which looks like little roses, probably came from Oklahoma. Galena, which is silvery in color and has lead in it, might have come from northeast Iowa or Missouri."

Anderson shined an ultraviolet light on plain-looking rocks, which made them shine.

"Fluorescents are minerals that include atoms that, when bombarded with ultraviolet wavelengths, emit light from their atomic structure."

New Jersey is the likely source for those rocks.

The Grotto Museum has samples of all the rocks used with their names and locations. The museum tells the history and building process.

To celebrate the 100 years, a Rockfest celebration was held in June.

The Grotto is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Darcie Kramer has been the executive director for two years.

"I love to meet people from all over the world, but the best thing of all is to hear the reaction of the people who come to see the Grotto and hear the amazing facts on the tour."

The most common reaction is "wow,'' she said.