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A life of sifting sands of time

Rudy Kopf (right) and his son Eric at Yellowstone National Park in 1992.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

When Rudy Kopf was growing up in western New York state, his father Max offered the boy a choice as to how to spend Sundays.

“‘You can go to church with your mom, or you can go fossil-hunting with me,'” Doris Kopf, Rudy Kopf’s wife of 53 years, said the story goes. “That was his father’s hobby every Sunday – fossil hunting.”

The son chose fossils, and that helped set the course of his life, which ended Dec. 24 when the 80-year-old Grass Valley man died at home of cancer.



“His life was geology,” his wife said.

Memorial services for Kopf will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Empire Mine State Historic Park Club House.




The fossils that Kopf and his father collected are now in the Cincinnati Museum Center as the special “Max P. Kopf Collection.” Kopf later got bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology and had a career with the U.S. Geological Survey, from which he retired in 1980.

During retirement in Grass Valley, Kopf kept his geology habit going strong. That included investigating the source of gold and diamonds in gravel formations left behind by an immense, ancestral Yuba River system.

Kopf was an avid gold panner. Even after getting a quintuple heart bypass operation in 1995, he’d strap on a backpack and pan for nuggets and flakes that had settled in crevices and cracks in the bedrock of the South Yuba River.

“The Chinese used to do that. In fact, he learned how to make his tools by going to museums,” said son Eric Kopf of Oregon.

Kopf carefully recorded all of his gold finds. Fellow geologist David Lawler said Kopf would keep track of other minerals, such as garnets, which showed up in his gold pan as part of Kopf’s research into the source of diamonds.

“He wasn’t gold-panning to buy a steak and lobster dinner. He had some (research) interests in mind,” Lawler said.

Kopf authored more than 30 technical publications. He also spent 30 years working on his unpublished “hydrotectonic hypothesis,” a theory explaining how diamonds are formed and reach the earth’s surface.

Another of Kopf’s passions was picking up trash he found along the river and near his home on Empire Street.

That got the attention last year of Ron Silveira, a Lake Vera Purdon Road resident who sent The Union a letter to the editor praising Kopf.

Silveira wrote he was amazed one summer night to “see a gentleman scouring the roadside of litter. It was Rudy mining for trash.”

Lawler summed up Kopf as “a great scientist and a wonderful human being.”

Rudolph W. Kopf was born in Munich, Germany, in 1922. He and his parents immigrated to western New York in 1924, where he grew up in and near Buffalo. During World War II, he served in the Pacific as a medical corpsman with the Marine Corps. He married Doris Hickling on Oct. 7, 1949.

Although most of his career was with the U.S. Geological Survey after graduating from the University of Buffalo, he also had shorter stints with the U.S. Naval Hydrographic Office and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

Kopf was a fellow in the Geological Society of America and was listed in the American Men and Women of Science between 1955 and 1989.

After his retirement to Grass Valley, he became a docent at Empire Mine State Park, where he was a member of the “Over the Hill Gang,” a blacksmith, and a director of the Empire Mine Park Association. He was also a member of the Grass Valley Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the Nevada County Historical Society, and the Nevada County Gem and Mineral Society.

Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of the Foothills.

He is survived by his wife, Doris; son, Eric Kopf of Sweet Home, Ore.; daughter, Wendy Caufield of Laguna Beach; granddaughters, Tawny and Dana Caufield of Laguna Beach; step-grandsons, Sgt. Timothy McQueen, stationed in Norfolk, Va., and Jason West of Pasadena; brothers, Dr. Edward Kopf of Las Vegas, Nev., and Dr. Alfred Kopf of Garden City, N.Y.

Arrangements are under the direction of Hooper and Weaver Mortuary.


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