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Beacon Senior News

Dinosaurs aren’t just for kids

Apr 04, 2022 12:45PM ● By Diana Barnett

Tom Lawrence became a dinosaur lover at age 6. Now at 74, he has found his second childhood and a second calling as a volunteer at Dinosaur Journey in Fruita. 

While living in California, Lawrence became acquainted with George Callison, a paleontologist who introduced him to fossil exploration and took him on digs. After moving to Grand Junction, Lawrence brought his sons to Dinosaur Journey and started volunteering once he retired from School District 51 in 2010. 

“I loved going in the field and on field trips with paleontologist John Foster and museum director Mike Perry,” said Lawrence. “A highlight of my time was when a family in Appleton discovered fossilized bones of Cretaceous fish in Manco shale. Their youngster found a tooth and brought it in to be identified. Our museum staff went out to investigate and participated in the dig.”  

Grand Valley native Dorothy Stewart, 79, started volunteering at the museum in 1993. She has worked as a docent in all three Museum of Western Colorado locations. 

“When I started, the dinosaur operations of the museum were located in the old JC Penney building downtown,” said Stewart. “I worked in clay casting, then eventually came to the lab in our current location.” 

Stewart absolutely loves working in the lab. Her current project is piecing together a bone that was taken from the Curecanti site near Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River. 

“We don’t know what it is from yet,” said Stewart, “But it’s exciting to know you’re the first person to touch something that old and the first to work on it.”

Kay Fredette has volunteered at the museum since 1986, spanning six museum paleontologists. As the lab supervisor, she oversees volunteers who prepare fossils for study or exhibit. 

“Lots of original science comes out of the lab,” said Fredette, 83. “We dig, clean and research the bones, then our paleontologist does a study, trying to determine what happened after the critter died.” 

The paleontologist then adds the data to a catalog and database to make it accessible by others. All fossils belong to the Smithsonian and are managed by the BLM.

For Stewart and Fredette, the highlight of their tenure at Dinosaur Journey was discovering an Allosaurus leg bone while digging in Rabbit Valley. It’s now on display at the museum.

“Words cannot express how much our volunteers do for us,” said the museum’s paleontologist Dr. Julia McHugh. “These wonderful people spend countless hours working in rough and very hot conditions in our quarries, helping set up and tear down every day. I am amazed by their commitment to our work.”

Lawrence, Stewart and Fredette have a combined 74 years of experience at the museum. The three of them are all active in the digs at Rabbit Valley, which take place June through August. 

At the quarry, they coach and teach expedition participants.

“Mike Perry began the digs to let the public experience how these bones are found, cared for and preserved,” said Fredette. 

She recalled the first expedition, which included a group of Japanese students with their translator. 

“They were thrilled to see real cowboys on horseback and the dig site at Riggs Hill,” she said.

Join the dino-mite team at Dinosaur Journey

For more information, visit www.museumofwesternco.com/about/volunteer or call 970-242-0971.