Friday, September 4, 2009

Couple gives museum dino-sized donation

The state will match the Laramie couple's $570,000 gift, giving new life to UW's geological museum.

By Bill McCarthy

CHEYENNE -- A retired University of Wyoming geology professor and his wife have donated enough money to give new life to the S.H. Knight Geological Museum.

Brainerd "Nip" and Anne Mears of Laramie contributed $570,000 to establish an endowment to support the UW geological museum.

The long-time university benefactors' latest donation will be matched by the state, creating an endowment of $1.4 million.

"Nip" Mears, a professor emeritus of geology, retired after 40 years with UW. He came to UW in 1949.

Anne Mears is a UW alum.

The couple's support of the museum is a tribute to Samuel H. "Doc" Knight, a legendary geologist and early museum curator who is credited with bringing the UW Department of Geology into national prominence.

"Continuing his legacy, I think, was important to a great many people," Anne Mears said.

The museum closed to the public June 30 as part of an $18.3 million state budget cut that took effect July 1. It reopened part-time Aug. 24 without a curator.

A group called Friends of S.H. Knight Museum has been raising money to reopen the museum full-time with a curator on a sustainable basis.

Members of Friends of S.H. Knight Museum said they are excited about the Mearses' gift and will continue to raise more money.

Friends spokeswoman Lisa Cox said, "I can assure you that the Friends is thrilled the endowment will go forward so those who have been concerned can contribute knowing the money will be used exclusively for the geological museum.

"The public gets their unique scientific, historical and educational treasure back, though the former curator will not be at the helm at this time."

"Friends is very pleased that the Geology Department, and (Geology Professor) Art Snoke specifically, was able to secure this gift for the museum, and we are very hopeful for the future of the museum," said Kelli Trujillo, another active member of Friends.

UW President Tom Buchanan appointed a task force led by Snoke to develop a long-term plan.

The plan will focus on redesigning the museum to bolster the reputation of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, enhance opportunities for training the next generation of Wyoming science teachers and expand its coverage of Earth sciences.

In a news release, Snoke said, "The new museum will maintain all of the aspects that have made it beloved by the people of Wyoming and will expand into the fields of energy and environment."

The Mearses' gift will help to launch a major fundraising drive to support the museum.

"This gift is not the only gift that is expected," UW spokeswoman Jessica Lowell said.

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