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Rukin Jelks

Jeffries Rukin "Rukie" Jelks, well-known Arizona rancher and mineral collector, was born October 21, 1927, in Tucson, the son of Della Leona Jeffries and Jefferson Rukin Jelks, a rancher. His mother died of childbirth complications, and during the early years of his life while his father was a widower, Rukin lived with other members of the Jelks clan in Arkansas. Eventually his father married Mary Coburn Haskell, and they brought Rukin back to live with them in Arizona. That marriage ended in divorce, following which Jefferson married Frances Barry. She was just ten years older than Rukin, and was more like a sister to him than a stepmother. She would even help him find garnets in Tucson's arroyos.

Rukin attended the Judson Boarding School in Paradise Valley, Arizona (near Phoenix), returning to the family ranch during the summers. In the early 1900s there were four ranches on the far east side of Tucson: the Tanque Verde Ranch (now known as the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch), the Rocking K Ranch, La Posta Quemada (owned by Charles Day, father of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor) and the X-9 ranch (owned by the Jelks family).

Rukin moved to Greenough, Montana when he was 12 years old, to live with his former step-mother Mary and her new husband. His dream was to study geology at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he eventually enrolled. He did well academically until he had to take calculus, a difficulty which ended his dream of a career in geology. Instead, he earned degrees in anthropology and sociology and went to work for the chief assayer at the Anaconda copper mine near Butte. The miners there would sometimes give him attractive mineral specimens they found, helping him build his growing collection.

While attending the University of Montana in 1951, Rukin met and married Carolyn "Keri" Gillett. When the couple came back to Arizona, Rukin took a job as a dynamite salesman for the Hercules Powder Company. His territory included all of Arizona, Imperial County (California), Clark County (Nevada) and extended south to Hidalgo in central Mexico. He put on 30,000 miles a year for 20 years selling dynamite to various mining companies. Finally tiring of that life, he and Keri bought 80 acres of land in Lyle Canyon near Elgin, south of Sonoita, Arizona, and soon bought the neighboring property (the Diamond C Ranch) as well. Rukin--whose other hobby was collecting guns--subsequently owned and operated the Pioneer Gun Shop, was involved in a soil conditioning business, and raised cattle on the Diamond C Ranch, in partnership with his three sons: Rukin III, Daniel, and Jimmy (who manages the ranch).

Rukin and Keri began to acquire important mineral specimens in the 1950s, buying from dealers David New and Scott Williams in Scottsdale, Arizona. They built a large and beautiful collection of minerals from worldwide localities, and won both the Walt Lidstrom Memorial Award and the Paul Desautels Memorial Award at the Tucson Show in 1994. In 2012 his mineral collection was put up for sale via his close friends Gene and Jackie Schlepp (Western Minerals) in Tucson.

Rukin was always involved in community service: He was a member of the Rotary 100, the Phoenix Thunderbirds, and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Posse Volunteer Search and Rescue team. He served as Chairman of the Arizona State Parks Board (placing Kartchner Caverns on the National Association of State Parks), the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, and the Mountain Oyster Club (a rancher's organization co-founded by his father). He was also a member of Los Charros del Desierto and served for several years as Chairman of the Board of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. He was a leader in every organization in which he served, combining humility with generosity, wisdom and love of people, while winning friends with his rakish charm, sense of humor and amusing rural expressions.

Rukin Jelks passed away on Friday January 17, 2014 in Tucson.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - Rukin Jelks 46 x 73 mm; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum label for a specimen from the Jelks collection that they de-accessioned (the price on the back is "$200")
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