Amateur Spotlight: Jack Kallmeyer

Introduction to Jack Kallmeyer by Dr. Dave Meyer, lead nominator for the Strimple Award

At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Indianapolis, The Paleontological Society presented its Strimple Award for contributions by an amateur to paleontology to Jack Kallmeyer of Cincinnati, Ohio. I was among several paleontologists who nominated Jack and I had the pleasure of introducing him for the Strimple Award at the Paleontological Society’s Annual Dinner and Awards gathering.

Jack is the third member of the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers to receive the Strimple Award. In citing Jack’s qualifications for the award, I pointed out that Jack has made outstanding contributions to paleontology on several levels. Like most Strimple honorees, Jack has been an energetic and astute collector of fossils from the rich Upper Ordovician strata of the Cincinnati Arch region and most generous in sharing his knowledge and specimens. His interests have focused on echinoderms, including crinoids but especially the less well-known group, the edrioasteroids. Thanks to the Dry Dredgers, discovery of abundant edrioasteroids attached to brachiopod shell pavements provided exceptional material in the 1960s for definitive research on edrioasteroid morphology, growth, and systematics in the PhD research of Bruce Bell. This echinoderm that had been regarded as rare and poorly understood until found to be prolific in the Cincinnatian when the preferred depositional environment was located.

After I joined the faculty of the University of Cincinnati in 1975, the Dry Dredgers again led us to new shell pavements rich in “edrios.” Then, instead of collecting single specimens isolated from their facies context, we recovered large areal sections of the shell beds on which to study edrio population paleoecology for the first time. Jack’s collecting with his friend Stuart Wheeler provided thousands of specimens, donated to Cincinnati Museum Center, that were the basis for this new phase of edrio research. In particular, Jack assembled a large dataset of morphometric and taphonomic parameters through meticulous observations. With this effort, Jack became involved in original research for the first time. He also made significant finds of Cincinnatian crinoids that resulted in co-authored peer reviewed papers with Stephen Donovan and Bill Ausich.

In addition to his collecting of significant echinoderm fossils, and his generous sharing of his discoveries with researchers, Jack has excelled as a leader in the amateur paleontology community in Cincinnati and nationwide. Jack has served as Dry Dredgers President since 1988. Among the oldest amateur paleontology groups nationwide, the Dredgers have thrived under his leadership and become contributors to science education and outreach. A Research Award program was established by which annual grants are given to paleontology students and researchers. The Dredgers entered into a collaboration with Cincinnati Mineral Society to present the annual GeoFair, a mineral, fossil, and gem show with a strong educational component now entering its 55th year as one of the leading public outreach events for the geological sciences in the nation. Jack has also assumed editorship of the Dredgers’ monthly Bulletin, to which he has contributed over 90 insightful book reviews – “Jack’s Stacks.”Jack has also involved the Dredgers with paleontological outreach on a national level through the FOSSIL Project and the North American Paleontological Convention (2009 in Cincinnati, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida, and the upcoming NAPC in Riverside, California, in 2019). Jack attended FOSSIL mini-conferences and organized the 2016 mini-conference in Cincinnati. These many and varied contributions to outreach and public education, along with his active participation in original research, established an exceptionally strong record for his Strimple Award nomination. Amateur paleontologists are not only astute and generous collectors of unique fossils, they are now actively engaged in research and collaboration with professional researchers. Jack Kallmeyer is exemplary in this regard, making outstanding contributions to paleontology on these many fronts, and we are exceedingly fortunate to have him as a “companion in zealous research” and paleontological outreach.

By Jack Kallmeyer

Figure 1: Jack with Strimple Award at the Paleontological Society Banquet.

My first exposure to fossils was through my cousin Robert. I was probably less than ten years old. Bob gave me a handful of Cincinnati fossils including the front half of an enrolled Flexicalymene trilobite. This sparked my interest. My parents took me to the Dayton Museum of Natural History, the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, and the Orton Museum at Ohio State University so I could see and learn more. I read every book in the children’s section of our local library on fossils and prehistoric life and then moved on to the books in the adult section. I was enthralled with dinosaurs and cave men. The artistic renditions of prehistoric life by Charles R. Knight were inspiring. 

Unfortunately, I knew nothing of the Dry Dredgers and my collecting opportunities were limited. Even at that, I still had a burning desire to learn more and took two years of Latin in high school so I would be able to name the dinosaur I would eventually discover. A guidance counselor diverted me to engineering and it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that I met Stuart Wheeler, another amateur collector. Stu has an exceptional Cincinnatian fossil collection and an even more impressive library of paleo literature. We began collecting together every weekend. Stu taught me collecting techniques, how to properly document specimens and how to do literature research. We also joined the Dry Dredgers at this time and a few years later I became president and I remain so today. Stu and I set a goal to collect at least one specimen of every known species in the Cincinnatian and to date, despite all of our efforts, neither of us has achieved this goal. 

Figure 2: Preserved bifurcating pillars of stromatoporoid, polished surface.

Figure 3: Surface features of stromatoporoid from Figure 2 showing mamelons

My first collaboration with a paleontologist came as a result of meeting Professor Stephen Donovan through Professor David Meyer at the University of Cincinnati (U.C.) in the mid-1990s. Stephen was visiting U.C. from the University of Kingston (Jamaica) at the time. He was an echinoderm specialist who worked extensively on moldic crinoid stem material from the U.K. Dave and Stephen visited my house to see my echinoderm collection and I gave Stephen a packet of Plicodendrocrinus stems from the Cincinnatian as a goodwill gesture. Unbeknownst to me, the stems showed unique forms and Stephen asked me to coauthor a paper describing them. On that first paper I wrote a single paragraph about the locality. My second paper with Stephen allowed me to expand my writing as first author. 

Figure 4: Radiating pillars and cyst plates on polished surface of Lebechia sp. stromatoporoid

Many years later I collaborated with Professor Bill Ausich of The Ohio State University. We described a new species of Cincinnatian crinoid that I had collected in 1996. This paper was published in the Journal of Paleontology in 2016 with me as first author. I had met Bill through Dave Meyer on one of my visits to U.C. I kept in touch with him by email over the years with the occasional question about Cincinnatian crinoids. With his knowledge of the Cincinnatian crinoids, he was the person I sought out to confirm that I had a new species. In order to complete this paper, I worked with many other professionals including Dr. Brenda Hunda of the Geier Collections and Research Center, Professor Kendall Hauer of Miami University, Professor Dave Meyer of U.C. and Holly Prochaska of the U.C. Geology Library. Professor Carl Brett of U.C. helped me specify the exact stratigraphic layer of my discovery.  

Of late, I have begun studying stromatoporoids, members of the Porifera and the calcareous sponges. Up until this time I really hadn’t collected many of them until fellow Dry Dredger, Kyle Hartshorn, shared a number of interesting localities with me. These are not the most attractive fossils by any means unless they are cut and polished – even then most are internally featureless recrystallized masses. One site has yielded countless specimens with the internal structures preserved and these are indeed beautiful. One of the fascinating aspects of the stromatoporoids is that few people study them so detailed knowledge is less than with other taxonomic groups. External morphology can be convergent with other groups as well including chaetetid sponges and coralline algae, so identification requires some study. 

Figure 5: Radiating growth habit on polished section of cerebriform Solenopora

I am also working with Kyle Hartshorn on another problematic taxon: Solenopora. This enigmatic genus has been a catchall group for morphologically similar forms and some not so similar forms. At one time this genus was considered to be red coralline algae but more recently it has been grouped with the chaetetid sponges. The genus is found throughout the Cincinnatian. It appears that a number of these occurrences may not be chaetetids at all but actually red or green algae.  Kyle, Professor Carl Brett, and I are currently working on a paper regarding this group. 

I find myself attracted to the problematica – those fossil remains that, despite years of study, are of unknown affinity.  One of my favorites in that regard is Conchopeltis miseneri. There are a few more than a handful of specimens known from this area, but all have the same perplexing morphology: a subconical depression in the base of a bryozoan colony that had apparently overgrown the Conchopeltis; one half of the impression has fine concentric ridges while the other half has coarse radial ridges. Based upon preservation, Conchopeltis had to be a rigid organism to have been overgrown by a bryozoan colony. No body fossils with this morphology have ever been found. 

Figure 6: Conchopelitis miseneri showing surface features as impressions in the base of a bryozoan colony.

At the annual meeting of the GSA in Indianapolis in November, the Paleontological Society awarded me their highest honor for an amateur: the Harrell L. Strimple Award for important contributions to paleontology. Winning this prestigious award and receiving the congratulations from many well-wishers throughout the conference has been an unforgettable experience. This has left an indelible mark on my heart and I will be forever grateful.  

Every avocational scientist that I know shares a passion for fossils and many develop expertise for a particular taxon. I encourage all to continue expanding your knowledge base and talk to professionals about your passion whenever you have the opportunity. Connections and contacts will enhance your ability to make a mark in the advancement of paleontology.

To learn more:

Kallmeyer, J. W., & Ausich, W. I. (2015). Deepwater occurrence of a new Glyptocrinus (Crinoidea, Camerata) from the Late Ordovician of southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky: revision of crinoid paleocommunity composition. Journal of Paleontology, 89(6), 1068-1075.

Read about the contributions of Jack Kallmeyer and the Dry Dredgers to geology at the University of Cincinnati in this 2017 article.