A rock collector, Forrest Buffington's stones always led to stories
Rocks have stories to tell.
Or, at least Forrest Buffington thought so.
There were the nearly 200 pounds of rocks Forrest and his wife, Jan, collected that reminded of a special trip to Washington.
The flat, black rocks from Alaska that brought back laughs about how alarmed airport security was when they saw the dozens and dozens of stones in the couple’s luggage. Needless to say, they and their baggage were searched.
Or the buckets and buckets of petrified wood from a big field in North Dakota gathered on their final rock-collecting trip.
Now Forrest’s family is left to rummage through a shop filled with dozens of marked and unmarked buckets and containers of rocks collected throughout his lifetime. But, more heartbreakingly, they are left to tell the stone’s stories.
Forrest died in October in Mason City due to complications from COVID-19. He was 80.
Neither Jan nor his children, Ellen Bruns and Andy Buffington, know where Forrest’s love for rocks originated, but it’s safe to say he passed it onto them.
Rocks of all shapes and sizes decorate their yards and their homes — as well as the yards and homes of their children, Forrest’s granddaughters.
'Dad was literally our family's rock'
Nearly a decade ago, Forrest spotted a giant rock on a farm near Crystal Lake that he liked. After looking at it for a couple years, he made arrangements with the farmer to have it relocated to their family home in Forest City.
When the farmer showed up with the stone in his tractor bucket, Forrest guided him to the spot he’d identified specially for the glittering behemoth, Jan said.
With the rock placed, a neighbor took a photo of Forrest, feet up on his new acquisition and a big smile on his face.
That photo is now a literal snapshot of treasured memory for Forrest’s wife and children.
“Dad was literally our family’s rock,” Ellen said.
Born in Titonka in 1940, Forrest graduated from the Crystal Lake school system in 1957.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after high school and served until 1962, marrying Jan in 1959.
The new family settled in Muscatine, where Forrest worked for Monsanto Corp. After a handful of years, they returned to North Iowa, making their home in Forest City.
'He just always made it special when you were there and when you talked'
A natural talker, Forrest’s tales didn’t end with rocks. He liked people and made friends easily, his family said. No matter what was going on at home or work, he had time to stop and visit — though his tales were often lengthy and multifaceted, his children said.
“He was always so very interested in what somebody had to say because everybody had their own story and he wanted to know about them,” Andy said.
Over time, his stories got more embellished and more interesting. And there were always hugs, a lot of hugs.
“He was a good storyteller,” Ellen said. “You just had to listen for a while.”
“He just always made it special when you were there and when you talked,” Ellen added. “It was important to him."
Some of Forrest’s beloved rocks were on display during the patriarch’s Celebration of Life late last year.
As the ceremony wound down, his children told mourners to take one, or a few, home.
And if someone ever asks, they said, just make sure to tell the story of Forrest and his beloved rocks.
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 600 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
David Belluchi, 57, Des Moines. Coached his sons and nephews at Plaza Lanes and AMF in Des Moines.
Ivan Current, 64, Maquoketa. Loved riding his Harley Davidson with his wife and friends.
Rachel Heller, 87, Grundy Center. A hard-working woman who started her career at the Grundy Center Richelieu factory.
Harry Huebbe, 91, Baldwin. Sold hand-carved wooden toys at flea markets.
Edward "Jazzman Joe" Lynch, 86, Ankeny. An accomplished tenor sax and harmonica player with an expertise in Traditional Dixieland Jazz.
Shirley Ann Mommsen, 83, Maquoketa. Worked as a nurse's aide at the Jackson County Public Hospital.
Donna Vinson, 91, Oelwein. Could "cut a rug" with the best of them.