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Compiled by Rob Tayloe

The following history has many names of some of the previous MSM Spelunkers Club members. However, due to certain reasons, there are some names that are missing that do deserve to be included. One that deserves mention first though is Mr. Eugene A. Degenhardt. He wrote a history of the Club that was included in the December 1962, Volume 6, Number 1 issue of our The MSM SPELUNKER. I took the liberty of including much of his material and facts in this updated version. I do hope that this newer version is as accurate as possible, but realize that something of this magnitude will never be totally complete.

Early History

Since the early 1900's, there has been somewhat of an active, if unofficial, group of people from the Rolla area that had a craving to go underground into the many caves in these parts. One of the first known activities that would have a impact later on the growth of the MSM Spelunkers Club occured in the early 1930's when Mr. Noel Hubbard, the Assistant Registrar at the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, took a group of students and faculty, and his wife, to Millers Cave. Among those that were present on this trip were: Mr. Andrew Kassay, Mr. Joe Butler, and Mr. Willard Farrar. There are some very interesting footnotes to mention about these four men:

Mr. Noel Hubbard was writing articles and taking cave photographs for the St. Louis Post Dispatch during the early 1930's. He had related that it was no easy task lugging his 8"x10" view camera and tripod up the steep, forty foot slope that leads to the entrance of Millers Cave. As mentioned, Mr. (ol' Mother, as he was affectionally called by the staff and students) Hubbard served as the School's Assistant Registrar from 1923 until 1941, when he held the Registrar's position until 1958, holding the Assistant Dean's post until he retired in 1960.

Mr. Andrew Kassay graduated from MSM in the Chemical Engineering class of 1932. He mentioned to me that they went to Bruce Cave and the caves around the Meramec area quite often. Their mode of travel was a Nash Touring car that his regular companion Clarence W. Hangosky (Met. Eng., 1931) owned. Mr. Kassay did remark that in his 10 year class reunion he heard talk of people wanting to start up a spelunking club, but he never heard more about it. He met his wife of 62 years here in Rolla. Their son, Robert, was the Club's president in 1957, and graduated in 1959 with a degree in Geology.

Mr. Joe Beaty Butler had earned a degree in Civil Engineering at Oklahoma A&M in 1915, and served in World War I in Europe. In 1931, Mr. Butler became the MSM Civil Engineering's second department chairman, remaining in that post until his death in 1955. He was a major force in the evolution of engineering as a profession, for example, being the co-creator of the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers in 1937.

Mr. Willard Farrar graduated from MSM in 1930 with a Bachelors degree and received a Professional degree in 1934 in Mining Engineering. While working at the Missouri Geological Survey, he compiled the list of names and locations of 210 caves distributed among 40 counties during his spare time, as he was "the Survey's cave enthusiast" according to Mr. J Harlen Bretz. Mr. Bretz sums up Mr. Farrar's work best when he wrote in his 1956 Caves of Missouri, "Finally, thanks is accorded to the late Willard Farrar of the Missouri Geological Survey, who initiated this project and started the field work. Farrar laid down his life for his country in the battle of Port Moresby, New Guinea." In honor of Mr. Farrar, the Missouri School of Mines named one of its new dormitories after him in the late 1950's. The plaque reads "Farrar Hall: Dedicated to the Memory of Willard Farrar, MSM 1930, Born April 26, 1905 - St. Louis, Killed in New Guinea December 2, 1943 While Serving His Country".

Becomes an Official Organization

Although the history of the MSM Spelunkers Club dates back to the early 1930's, it was not until November 8, 1949, when the Spelunkers Club had their Constitution approved by the faculty of Missouri School of Mines, that they become an official school organization. While there had been people caving for quite awhile before this date, in talking to some of the Club members of this time, it seems that a great amount of the caving that was done then was by independents and members of the Triangle fraternity. And it was the ground-work of these folk, mainly the independents, that actually started the MSM Spelunkers Club. Mr. Wayne Hahne was elected the first president of the Club in 1949. He related that there were about a dozen students in the Club at this time, including one female, who was married to another one of the members. Mr. Joe Butler was yet a strong backer of the Club and caving, with a membership number in the National Speleological Society of #1394, as well as being a very good friend of Mr. Hahne.

In talking to Mr. Hahne, it was mentioned that, even then, "they all made sure that people knew where they went, since that was one of the aims of the Club; they took care of each other". Mr. Degenhardt, one of the Club's presidents and a member in the early 1960's, also mentions this "building of life-long friendships when perched midway in a slot in a cave, and getting a hand grip from your buddy. You are your brother's keeper." There is yet a very strong bond between the present members in the Club.

Mr. Rex Williams, who at the time was the first Assistant Dean of the School, was another strong backer who helped the Club get approval of its Constitution by the rest of the faculty. Mr. Williams had received metallurgical (1931) and civil (1935) engineering degrees, and joined the faculty as in instructor in mechanics in 1931, later on becoming the Chairman of the Department of Mechanics. He resigned his position of Assistant Dean in 1952 to become the Executive Vice President of the Rolla State Bank (which was later Centerre, and is presently Boatman's Bank).

Although there had been some other caving groups across the state (that were mostly "adventure clubs" out of the St. Louis area that had field trips in the Meramec area that sometimes included caving), the MSM Spelunkers Club is the oldest of the modern organized speleological groups in Missouri.

Participation in the NSS and MSS

The NSS (National Speleological Society) was formed by Mr. William Stephenson in 1939. It is composed of caving groups from across the country, known as grottos. At present, there are over 180 grottos and about 11,000 cavers affiliated with the NSS. On April 2, 1953, the MSM Spelunkers Club joined the NSS, thus becoming "The Missouri School of Mines Grotto of the National Speleological Society", Serial Number 48. John Moritz was the president of the Club at this time. In 1953 and 1955, the Club published several bulletins describing the caves of the Ozark Region. However, in 1956, the Club decided to discontinue their affiliation with the NSS due to "differences between the two organizations concerning matters of speleological interest". In talking to some of the members of this time, it seems that they felt that the NSS "was more talk than do".

The MSS (Missouri Speleological Survey) was formed in 1956 by Mr. Jerry Vineyard, Mr. Oz Hawksley, and Mr. Frank Dahlgren. This is an organization to bring the caving clubs in the Missouri area together, and to study and record the speleological features of the state. In 1962, when the MSM Spelunkers was the first to officially approve (ratify) the new MSS constitution, there were only seven clubs affiliated with the MSS, while at the present there are 12. In 1963, the MSM Spelunkers Club, being one of the founding groups of the MSS, was one of the two who helped pay for their incorporation. The MSM Spelunkers Club continues to remain a strong supporter of the MSS and its endeavors.

Miscallaneous Happenings in the Past

The MSM Spelunkers Club has hosted five of the NSS MVOR's (Mississippi Valley- Ozark Regional) since the first one in 1958. These were the: Fall 1962 at the Mill Creek Forest Service Campground, near Newburg, Phelps-Pulaski Counties; Spring 1965 at Huzzah Wildlife Area, in Crawford County; Fall 1969 in the Clark National Forest, near Bunker, Dent-Reynolds-Shannon Counties; Fall 1977 alongside Spring Creek, near Flat, Phelps-Pulaski Counties; Spring 1983 at Outpost Restaurant Campground, near Leasburg, Crawford County. Spring 1996 MVOR at Bass camprground near Steelville, Crawford, Franklin, & Washington Counties; and most recently we wer fool enough to host the Fall '98 at Mill Creek Campground(the old Gable field) Newburg, Phelps and Pulaski Counties.

Numerous cave surveying and mapping expeditions have been accomplished by the Club. Some of the more well known caves that the Club has participated in include: Cathedral, Carroll, Cox, Fitton, Great Spirit Cave, Gapsch's Ladder, Grempczynski, Little Beaver, Muench, Onondaga, Piquet, Rollins (& Mouse), and Skaggs Caves. In the exploration front, the MSM Spelunkers was the first group into much of Rollins #2, Fitton, and Muench, and were the discovers of Cox Cave for example. It was in the early 1960's when the "famous handshake connection" between Rollins #2 and Mouse Caves was made by Club members.

There have been numerous cave rescues that the Club has participated in. Some of these include: Bruce Cave (at least three), Marvel-Blair Creek Cave, Onyx Cave, many (too many...) at Pikes Peak (Indian) Cave, and Rollins #2. In 1966, the Club officially formed a Cave Rescue & Safety Committee. This is still a strong, and unfortunately necessary, function of the MSM Spelunkers Club.

The MSM Spelunkers Club has also interacted with other grottos of the area. For quite a few years, the MSM Spelunkers Club and the MMV Grotto (out of St. Louis) would have get-togethers at various locations. Such outings were also quite common between the Club and the Chouteau Grotto. Likewise, a trip was made in 1962 "to Columbia where the [MSM Spelunkers] Club instructed members of the Chouteau Grotto in the various aspects of rappeling." In the early 1960's also, many officers and members of the MSM Spelunkers were helping the newborn Gasconade Grotto get started and organized. Additionally, the Club has had, for many years, outings with some other Missouri and Arkansas college and university "outdoor explorers clubs". As a footnote, the MSM Rock Climbing Club was a direct outgrowth of the MSM Spelunkers Club. This was due to that the Spelunker's advisor at the time, Dr. Jim Maxwell, was a noted expert on mountain climbing, along with having much knowledge of cave science.

There have been many (in)famous people who have at one time or another been a part of or touched the MSM Spelunkers Club. Just a few of these folk that are not mentioned elsewhere in this write-up are: Dr. Thomas Beveridge (Club advisor), Greg Filla (Club president), Jim Glock (Club officer), Art Hebrank (Club president), Oz Hawksley (gave the Club much support), Bill Mattingly (Club officer), Kevin Reinhard (Club president), Mike Roberson (Club advisor & member), Nicholas Tibbs (Club officer), Tom Tucker (Club president), Prof. A. C. Spreng (Club advisor), and Prof. Paul Worsey (current Club advisor). Due to space and time limitations, this is by no means a complete list of all the people who have been affiliated with the Club.

Some of the research that the Club has performed includes: Bear and Piquet Caves (clay mineralogy), Carrol Cave (discovered dinosaur bones), Cathedral Cave (geo- chemical, microbiological, & others; this cave was leased by the Club for some time), Clay County springs (trace element content), Powder Mill Cave (bear remains), and some cave radio work in the late 1960's. In the case of Cathedral Cave, the MSM Spelunkers placed the gate there in 1968, at the request of Lester B. Dill. The MSM Spelunkers Club also helped in the fight to prevent the US Army Corps of Engineers from damning the Meramec River and, especially, the Buffalo River valleys. The resulting lakes would have inundated some important caves, such that many endangered or threatened species of wildlife, such as bats, would have either been killed or at the least lost important habitat. The Club also assisted in the research for Tom Beveridge's book "The Geological Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri". In addition, members from the Club helped in a survey and water trace in Silver Dollar City's Marvel Cave.

Some of the more enlightened research though that the Club worked on happened in the late-1950's to the mid-1960's. This "work" was performed in a "facility" that was owned by the parents of one of the Club's members, Ken Swanson. This fine establishment was the bar/dancehall in the front of Pikes Peak [Indian] Cave. It is reported by some of the members of this time that much of the Club's best fluid research was performed during this time. Unfortunately, the establishment was closed in the mid-1960's. Some of the current hydrological research now occurs in an establishment named "The Grotto" (used to be "The Cavern") in downtown Rolla.

The Present

The MSM Spelunkers Club, being mainly a University-affiliated caving organization, has a large-turnover so that there is very little continuity between the years. This hampers the research, surveying, mapping, and other speleological functions of the Club. It seems that the Club is continually rebuilding itself every few years. Due to this, not much has been done lately in speleological work. Nevertheless, the Club is still quite active in training new members in proper caving techniques, along with other speleological interests.

Many talks to area school and University students are given each year. Rescues are still, unfortunately, a too common occurrence (especially at Pikes Peak). Articles are placed within the mst newspaper (Missouri Miner), and public service announcements are aired on the local student-run radio station. Likewise, notices of safe caving methods are placed in the newspapers in the area. Good relations with the US Army base and its soldiers stationed at Fort Leonard Wood are also a high priority, as is the relationship between the many local private, state, and federal cave and land owners.

We have also adopted a section of I-44 west of Rolla (that "just" happens to include Beacon Hill Cave) for highway litter cleanup. Lately, approximately six caves have been surveyed and their maps are being produced. A study into the backwater flooding and sedimentation into some caves along the Gasconade River is also ongoing.

The Future

While the MSM Spelunkers Club does have the problem of rapid turnover, and has many times come close to the brink of dissolution, it has also likewise rebounded to be a force-ful, although somewhat quiet, caving organization. And even though the Club is now , once again, an Internal Organization of the NSS, the MSM Spelunkers has always been, presently is, and hopefully will continue to be a "quite independent, rag-tag, contrary, territorial, protective, maverick caving club". Likewise, the Club will persevere to remain as strongly committed to safe caving practices, solid landowner relations, and stalwart cave conservation and preservation in the future as it always has been. The MSM Spelunkers Club was built on this foundation, and will remain dedicated to this creed, keeping its traditions alive.


As was stated at the start of this, many thanks go to Mr. Eugene Degenhardt, who wrote a history of the Club in 1962, and sent much valuable information to me. Much of the information in this version is from his writings. Thanks also go to those past members of the MSM Spelunkers who donated their time and material so that other information could be added, mainly Andrew and Robert Kassay, Joel Jurgens, Anita Williams, Kurt Lamber, Ken Swanson, Prof. James Maxwell, and Wayne Hahne. Present Club members that have helped me in searching through archive material include Chris Hoer and Richard Dalton, our publicity and custodian officers, respectively. I also would like to thank the MSM-mst Alumni staff for their outstanding assistance, as that of Ms. Birdie Morgan of the mst Archives. I do hope that this is of use, and will remain, hopefully, an ongoing project.