Family vacations were planned around finding good places to search for rocks.

When Ed Smith began selling ashtrays he made out of geodes in the 1930’s, he wanted to provide for his family during the Great Depression. He had no idea his efforts to make some extra money in hard times would grow into a three generation rock and mineral business.

The business plan turned into Geode Industries and American Gem Supply, companies started up by Ed’s son, Earl Smith. Those companies eventually turned into Natural Inspirations, a store on Jefferson Street owned by David Smith, Earl’s son, and his wife Karmen Smith.

Earl made a name for himself in the gem and mineral trade, publishing several books and inventing and marketing a rock tumbler. At the peak of the tumbling business, the Smiths had dealers selling the product in Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Japan and the U.S. David sold the company in 2000, but said he knows a hospital in Texas uses the rock tumbler for little carbon discs for heart valves and an organization in Hawaii uses the equipment for delicate pieces of coral.

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David said his entry into the gem and mineral business was natural. As a child, he remembers his grandfather and father going out Sundays to quarries or creeks to search for rocks and geodes. Family vacations were planned around finding good places to search for rocks.

“I just grew up in it,” said David. “Crawling around in rock piles and kickin’ around in creeks.”

When Karmen married David, she rediscovered her own passion for gems and minerals. The love was not new, however. In elementary school, Karmen used to buy tumbled stones from Earl and David’s set-up shop at Old Threshers. With the prompt of marrying into a family so focused on geodes and rocks, Karmen earned a degree from the Gemological Institute of America, and focuses on selling jewelry and other items at Natural Inspirations.

The family connection to geodes runs even deeper. Ed served as the development chairman of Geode State Park, and in 1967 successfully lobbied to get the geode named as the Iowa state rock. David followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, currently serving as leader of the Friends of Geode non-profit group aimed to help the park stay functional and beautiful and writing a photo guide book to geodes.

Sometimes he and Karmen return to the local creeks and search for the 350 million year old Keokuk geodes. David said while in the business he has probably cracked open more than 1,000 of the unique rocks, and is constantly surprised by the beauty and variety of minerals found inside each one.