All Because of One Rock

If you had to choose just a few objects to showcase Blandford Nature Center’s history—  a handful considering the millions of things to be found outside —you might be tempted to skip over the rocks.  Although a rock,  you could say, is what played a key role in shaping Blandford’s history.

Every object tells a story.  Some just haven’t been written yet.  Each found object presents the perfect real-life storytelling opportunity for students to put their literacy education and writing skills to use.

“When you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

From the Gravel Pits to Grand Rapids Public Museum to Blandford Nature Center; All Because of One Rock

Written by Olivia Alcumbrack, Sixth Grade Student at West Side Christian School

Mary Jane Dockeray, the founder of Blandford Nature Center, has loved rocks from the start. Her explanation for loving rocks so much is, “I must have hit my head on a rock when I was little.” Now she loves rocks.

mary jane with rock

Mary Jane with a Quartz stone in her hand.

When she was little (kindergarten), she used to walk with her aunt – who was a teacher – on a little road she lived on.  Back then there weren’t many paved roads, so her road was gravel.  One day as she was walking with her aunt young Mary Jane saw a rock that caught her eye.  As she picked it up she asked her aunt, “What is this?”

gravel road

Her aunt replied, “Quartz.”

The rock was all white with sparkles. Now Mary Jane was curious, “Do all rocks have names?”

Her aunt replied, “Yes!”

She looked around in awe.  She wanted to know more because kindergartners are curious, “What is a person who studies rocks?”

Her aunt said with a smile, “Geologists.”

So Mary Jane decided that when she was older she wanted to become a geologist.  Her wish came true.  She became a geologist and began working at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. As part of her work with the museum she would frequently take school groups out to the place where she grew up.

Related: Growing Up in These Woods

As time went on things began to change, and she saw stakes in the ground. This started her on a journey to find out who owned the land with the hope that the land could be preserved for a natural learning space.  The owner, Mr.Blandford,  was thrilled with the idea of a nature center and donated the first ten acres. Mary Jane soon saw that the visiting kids needed an outhouse. Mary Jane was now tasked with overseeing the new building.

mary jane with rock1

Mary Jane points out the photo of Mr. and Mrs. Blandford

Related: The Dream

The Grand Rapids Museum Association decided to make the nature building its new project.  Mary Jane took pictures and drew drawings for the architect. The construction began in 1968.  Beautiful rocks were placed at the base and half way up the building. The rocks came from the local gravel pits. The building has over forty-four tons of rocks!


One day as Mary Jane was investigating the rocks on the wall she discovered one dark rock.  She poked it and smelled it. It turned out to be a Petroleum limestone.  You can still find it today.


I really enjoyed this opportunity to meet Mary Jane Dockeray and write about part of her life.  I like rocks, she REALLY likes rocks, and SHE ROCKS! She is so nice. She loves the outdoors and it’s great to learn that she has lived her life to help more people explore and learn more about the great outdoors.


Notice the rock that Mary Jane has for a necklace?

Mlive also shared more to her story in the article, Tom Rademacher: Mary Jane Dockeray’s book brings the outdoors into our lives.  There’s more neat things to know about this amazing woman.



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