Mearses' Gift Bolsters UW Geological Museum's Research and Education Mission
September 3, 2009 — Long time University of Wyoming benefactors Brainerd "Nip" and Anne Mears of Laramie have contributed $570,000 to establish an endowment to support the UW Geological Museum. Matched by the state of Wyoming, the $1.14 million endowment will elevate the museum's national prominence in geological research and education.
"The Mearses' extraordinary generosity will allow the university to move forward with its plan to ensure the Geological Museum connects with and strengthens our identified areas of distinction and faculty expertise in Earth and energy sciences and the training of future science teachers," says Ben Blalock, UW Foundation president. "The Mears family deserves our deepest gratitude for their dedication to UW and for their commitment to the Earth sciences at UW."
The museum closed to the public June 30 as one of a series of steps taken to meet an $18.3 million state budget cut that took effect July 1. It reopened part time Aug. 24.
Blalock says the Mearses' gift, which will be established in their name, will help to launch a major fundraising drive to support the Geological Museum. The gift will support the museum's general operations, purchase of museum articles, provide essential travel funds and support efforts to achieve the expanded research and education goals.
The Mearses have long been leaders in private support for the university. They contributed funds and raised awareness to construct the Cliff and Martha Hansen Livestock Teaching Arena and Earth Sciences Building.
Anne and Brainerd say support for the museum is a tribute to Samuel H. "Doc" Knight, the legendary geologist who was an early museum curator and who almost single-handedly built the Department of Geology into one of the nation's best. Knight painted the museum's large murals and constructed a campus landmark, the large, copper-plated Tyrannosaurus rex that guards the museum.
"It (the Geological Museum) is continuing his legacy because he is Mr. Wyoming Geology," Anne says. "A surprising number of people have gone through here and this museum has been something that has been almost an icon ... Continuing his legacy I think was important to a great many people."
UW President Tom Buchanan has appointed a task force led by Geology Professor Art Snoke to develop a long-term plan for a redesigned museum that augments with UW's academic mission and enhances the already strong academic reputation of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, identified as an area of distinction in the university's academic planning process.
Planning team members include: The director of one of UW's other museums or major collections; the dean of Arts and Sciences or a designee; the director of the Science-Mathematics Teaching Center; the director of the School of Energy Resources or a designee; the head of the Department of Geology and Geophysics; and at least one faculty member or academic professional from the Department of Geology and Geophysics.
Knight, who was named Wyoming's Citizen of the 20th Century, gave the museum to the people of Wyoming so that they could have a better understanding of the state's geologic history, Snoke says.
"Geology and geosciences in general have changed dramatically in the last 50 years, and I am certain that S.H. Knight would want the museum that he founded to be at the cutting edge of the geosciences," Snoke says. "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. It will also capture the complex and wonderful geologic history of Wyoming."
The Geological Museum features a variety of displays to illustrate Wyoming's past environments, highlighted by a 75-foot Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) skeleton that dominates the museum's exhibit hall. Another highlight is "Big Al," a display of the most complete Allosaurus fossil ever found. Hundreds of rock and mineral samples from throughout Wyoming's geological history are also displayed, including specimens that illuminate with fluorescent glow under ultraviolet light.
"Nip" Mears, a professor emeritus of geology, retired after 40 years with UW. He received a bachelor's degree (1943) from Williams College and a doctorate (1950) from Columbia University. He came to UW in 1949. Anne received a bachelor's in art history (1947) from Vassar and a master's degree in art (1956) from UW. The Mearses have been active Morgan horse breeders and trainers for more than 40 years.