FROM PHILANTHROPY TO PALEONTOLOGY HOW ONE DONOR'S PASSION LED TO A PREHISTORIC LEGACY.Published: 04-26-2018
From Philanthropy to Paleontology – How one donor’s passion led to a prehistoric legacy.
It is common practice for organizations to name buildings, programs and awards after significant donors but this may be one of the few times in the history of the planet that a donor has had a dinosaur named after them.
On September 23rd California became one of seven US states to have its own official dinosaur. The new California icon is the “duck-billed” hadrosaur Augustynolophus morrisi.
The dinosaurs name Augustynolophus morrisi honors two notable Californians, Dr. William J. Morris, and Mrs. Gretchen Augustyn* and family. Dr. Morris (1923–2000) was a geologist and paleontologist who was primarily responsible for most of the dinosaur discoveries along the western coast of North America. Mrs. Augustyn however, most likely never suspected her philanthropic passion would lead her to such a pre-historic honor.
Mrs. Augustyn has been a long-time supporter of the scientific and educational programs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA**), she is an active member of the Yosemite Conservancy and was previously a Trustee for the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and the Webb Schools in Claremont, California
Augustynolophus morrisi, named in 2014 by a team of scientists, is a uniquely Californian dino. The 66 million year old dinosaur has only been found in this state, and represents the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in California.
The bill to establish the dinosaur was brought to the California State Legislature in February 2017 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom who is also behind the official Twitter account for the state dinosaur, @augustynolophus, where the dinosaur, nicknamed “Auggie,” boasts in its bio of being a “Native Californian, Los Angeles resident, older than Jerry Brown (barely), vegetarian, and firm believer in science.”
Sacramento received dozens of petitions, letters and drawings of the dinosaur, confirming that ‘Auggie’ already has children engaged in the legislative process and excited about paleontology. The petitions stated that an official state dinosaur would help stimulate children’s interest in science as well as S.T.E.M. overall.
Auggie’s name sake herself explains that her grandchildren are fond of darting around the museum naming dinosaurs by heart – and now there will be one with their name on it. Augustyn is determined that her love for paleontology will continue into the future generations. In 2016 Augustyn established NHMLA’s Gretchen Augustyn Family Dinosaur Expeditions to support the fieldwork of the Museum’s Dinosaur Institute***.
Augustyn is also far more than a donor, she likes to get her shoes dirty. She and her family have now taken three trips to a quarry in Utah where the Dinosaur Institute crew has been unearthing Jurassic giants for years.
When asked about her passion for paleontology and her most recent honor she said “I feel fortunate to be involved and to be able to contribute and to enjoy the wonders of the museum. I want to see the Dinosaur Institute endowment grow to be large enough so that everything can be cared for and new things can be dug up and prepared, enabling young people to have an opportunity to learn about what once was.”
Lori Bettison-Varga, NHMLA President and Director shares Augustyn’s excitement for the role Auggie has to play in inspiring a new generation of dinosaur lovers:
“We want to use the specimens to highlight the idea that science is ongoing, and that there is so much around us for future scientists to discover.”
Perhaps if we explained to children that donating money could mean you have a dinosaur named after you one day then we would have a next generation of young, passionate philanthropists!
* Mrs Augustyn has been a long-time supporter of the scientific and educational programs at the Natural History Museum. She was the Treasurer for Sierra Alloys Company in Irwindale, where her husband served as President until his passing in 2010. Mrs. Augustyn also served as President of Citizens for Hillside Environment and Land Protection, and was a Trustee for the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and the Webb Schools in Claremont, California.
** The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a national leader in research, exhibitions and education. The Museum was the first dedicated museum building in Los Angeles, opening its doors in 1913. It has amassed one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history — with more than 35 million objects, some as old as 4.5 billion years.
***The Dinosaur Institute (DI) houses the Museum’s collection of Mesozoic tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates), dating from 250 million years ago to 65.5 million years ago. This collection includes fossils of dinosaurs spanning the Mesozoic Era, as well as fossils of other tetrapods that lived alongside the dinosaurs, such as flying and marine reptiles, crocodiles, turtles, amphibians, and early mammals.
The fossils in the NHMLA collection have been acquired over nearly a century, and the collection continues to expand rapidly through the Dinosaur Institute’s very active field program. The DI runs expeditions several times a year to collect fossils from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah and participates in international field programs, most recently in China, South Africa and Argentina.
The DI staff provides mentorship in paleontology for a diverse group of people, from volunteers and docents to undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellows. A wide range of research is conducted at the Museum by both staff and visiting researchers, from examining different aspects of the evolution of dinosaurs and other Mesozoic animals to investigations into their diversity, genealogical relationships, ecology, and life history.
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