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April 29, 2011 > There be fossils here

There be fossils here

By William Marshak

Yes, there really is a natural history museum in Fremont. Although it exists on the periphery of consciousness of many Tri-City area residents, each year the museum attracts thousands of visitors including children from a wide swath of Northern California school systems. The Children's Natural History Museum is a testament to the perseverance of its director, Dr. Joyce Blueford and houses the efforts of a group of "Boy Paleontologists" who helped make fossils found in the Fremont area famous. In fact, a geologic "stage" of about 1.8 million - 300,000 years BP (Before Present) is named for Irvington... the Irvingtonian North American Stage (Era).

For over a million years, fossils of mammoths, sabertooth cats, mastodons, sloths and other large mammals lay buried in the Fremont foothills. A group of "Boy Paleontologists" under the direction of a science teacher, Wesley Gordon, created a national sensation in the 1940s as they uncovered bones from the beginning of the Ice Age (Pleistocene epoch) near the community of Irvington. These "finds" eventually found their way to the museum within a few miles of their discovery.

Managed by Math/Science Nucleus, the Children's Natural History Museum has recently expanded in size and includes exhibits that display fossils, a "stardome" and "walk though time," shells, rocks and tools of early humans. And in the "Hall of Small Wonders," visitors can peek into a micro world of sea creatures. A museum shop allows visitors to expand their experience with mementos of their visit and continue exploration of the natural world through books, games, gadgets and experiments.

Leadership Fremont is a "class" formed annually by the Fremont Chamber of Commerce to learn more about their community and take an active role in its progress. Speaking for this year's group, Dr. Vera Packard noted, "It's been an amazing ride!" Each class picks a project to "engage and enhance" the community. A brainstorming discussion, moderated by Team Manager Kathy Hunt, resulted in a desire to work on something that involved children, education and created a legacy for future generations.

This year's Leadership Fremont class selected the Children's Natural History Museum as its work project, designing and supporting the construction of a patio adjacent to the museum building for lunch/snack breaks and outdoor activities. Blueford said that attendance at the museum could double if a safe and comfortable place for snacks and lunch could be found on the museum grounds. That was all that the Leadership group needed to hear; they got to work planning, organizing, fundraising and finding a construction partner. Amazed at the community's response to appeals for assistance, Packard was overwhelmed by the generosity of local companies and individuals proving the adage, "The first attitude we need in life is the attitude of gratitude."

Some of those who supported the project were acknowledged at a ribbon cutting event Wednesday, April 20. They include: Cargill Salt, Leadership members, Washington Hospital Healthcare, Fremont Police Association, Kaiser Permanente, Allied Waste of Alameda County, Advanced Micro Devices, Fremont Firefighters Association, Kevin & Ellen Woods, William Jennings, Corbin Willits Systems, Inc., Royal Ambulance, Wesley Liu and Stahl Companies. A special "Thank You" was extended to Greg Robillard of Robillard Construction for his generous assistance building the patio. Additional funds are still needed to install a floor of recycled material for the patio.

One of the Boy Paleontologists, Phil Gordon interrupted a trip to Southern California, driving all night to attend the ceremonies marking completion of the project. Blueford noted, "This is the first time I have allowed an outside group to do everything." Although hesitant at first, standing under the trellis of the new area, she concluded "I am totally convinced that the community is ready to help the Math/Science Nucleus provide even more services; I want to applaud the Leadership Fremont Class of 2011."

California Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski was present to issue a proclamation recognizing the accomplishments of the Math/Science Nucleus. Other dignitaries in attendance included Fremont Unified School District Boardmember Lara York and Superintendent Dr. Jim Morris, Chamber of Commerce CEO Cindy Bonoir and chamber representatives Nina Moore and K.K. Kaneshiro. Bonoir spoke of the commitment of the business community, especially members of Leadership Fremont classes, to reach out and help make their community successful. She summarized class efforts saying, "All individuals in Leadership Fremont make a big commitment - a nine month commitment - to this program. This year, they have put a lot of time and effort into what has created an environment where kids can learn, expand their knowledge and grow as individuals."

Members of the 2011 Leadership Fremont class include: Walt Birkedahl,
Mike Engle, Michelle Griese, Hasieb Lemar, Kathy Hunt, Toni Lyons, Chris Jung, Mike Moore and Vera Packard

Math/Science Nucleus
Children's Natural History Museum
4074 Eggers Drive, Fremont
(510) 790-6284

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