Great Lakes Gazette

Great Lakes Gazette
June 16, 2009

Last summer a high school classmate of mine, Kath Usitalo, visited the museum and asked to interview me. Since there was other media coverage of the museum last year, she waited to post her article this year. It is posted on the website: for June 16th.

I have reproduced the article below.

Thanks, Kath, for a job well done!

Agate Lady Rocks

Plenty of beautiful rocks along the Lake Superior shore near Grand Marais, but you may need the help of The Agate Lady to find the elusive semi-precious gemstone.

Karen Brzys is one rockin’ lady. And I’m not saying that just because we both have Finnish roots, or because we graduated high school together. (With a graduating class of over 800 kids—2,400 under the Redford Union H.S. roof in grades 10-11-12—we have that “recognized you in the halls but really didn’t know you” kind of relationship.)

Somehow, though, I learned that she’d moved from the Detroit area to Grand Marais, a UP fishing village on Lake Superior that is like a picturesque fishing village in Maine, without the lobster. It’s also the eastern entrance to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and when we swung through there last summer we met up with Karen at her museum.

Yes, she owns a museum. How many people at your high school reunion can make that claim?

Karen Brzys shares her knowledge and love of agates through her classes and museum.

Karen’s path to the museum began with childhood visits to Grand Marais with her family, when she was befriended by an anchor of the community, a gent named Axel Niemi. The local Renaissance Man fished Lake Superior and studied the rocks on the beach and the stars above, told stories, and in 1954 founded the Gitche Gumee Museum. (Gitche Gumee is the Ojibwe name for big water—Lake Superior.)

Through a series of events that can only be explained as destiny, Karen left the stress and travel of a dozen jobs, moved to Grand Marais, and became guardian of Axel’s repository of local lore, artifacts, and mineral collection. In 1999 she reopened the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum. She is also a noted expert on agates, and is known as The Agate Lady.

Rockhounders in a fog about which are agates, near Grand Marais.

What lobsters are to Maine, agates are to Grand Marais. No, you can’t eat the billion-year-old, semi-precious gemstones, but people come from all over to hunt for agates on the Lake Superior shore. Karen assists by offering classes that help rockhounders to identify agates and differentiate between beach rocks. You can even arrange to have her accompany you to a local beach for a lesson and hunting expedition.

Enjoy a Lake Superior brew, root beer, and seasoned popcorn in Grand Marais

Make time to visit Grand Marais.

Sample the local brew at Lake Superior Brewing Company, and take in the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum.

Browse the exhibits and take a class on agates (you may get to see the very special WOWSER rocks).

Pick up a copy of Karen’s book (did I mention she’s an author?).

Buy her handcrafted mineral art (did I mention she’s an artist?).

Told you, this Agate Lady rocks.

Karen combines rocks and stained glass to create mineral art, like this piece we enjoy at Blue Skies.

Fishing boat hand built by Axel Niemi, who founded the Gitche Gumee Museum and mentored Karen.