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UW Announces Donation to S.H. Knight Memorial Fund

November 5, 2009
People standing under fossil
Museum Friends -- University of Wyoming officials met recently with the Friends of the S.H. Knight Geological Museum to accept an $8,000 gift to support the museum. From left are Geology Department Head Art Snoke; museum friends Kelli Trujillo and Lisa Cox; UW Foundation President Ben Blalock; and museum friend Beth Southwell.

An endowment fund to support the UW Geological Museum has been created, and a generous gift to that fund has been announced.

The $8,000 gift of The Friends of the S.H. Knight Geological Museum, founded in the wake of the museum's closure on June 30, is the latest donation to the fund, bringing the total to $18,000. The nonprofit community benefit organization raised money last summer to raise awareness and funds to reopen the Geological Museum.

"The Friends are excited to be working with the university to reopen a fully operational museum," says Kelli Trujillo, one of the Friends of the S.H. Knight Museum.

Through the creation of the S.H. Knight Memorial Fund, all donations to this fund will be doubled by the State of Wyoming match. UW President Tom Buchanan and the UW Board of Trustees have committed to match all donations to the Knight Memorial Fund up to $750,000. The matching starts when the Knight Memorial Fund reaches $50,000.

An additional gift of $10,000 to the S.H. Knight Memorial Fund was made by John and Susan Masterson, both UW alumni and longtime supporters in memory of his parents, James A. and Mary W. Masterson.

"We're delighted with these initial gifts, and what they will help us accomplish for the museum and the university," Ben Blalock, UW Foundation president, says. "With this fund, anyone can donate to support the museum."

The fund will be used to cover a range of costs for the museum, including staff, operations, maintenance and renovations to the museum as a whole as well as to individual exhibits, equipment and supplies related to the museum's missions of teaching, research, display and public outreach.

"We're grateful to those who took the time to let us know how they felt," Chuck Brown, president of the UW Board of Trustees, says. "Without them, we wouldn't have the resources we now have to find the best potential uses of the museum facility."

The establishment of the S.H. Knight Memorial Fund follows the generous gift of Brainerd "Nip" and Anne Mears earlier this year through the Anne C. and Brainerd Mears, Jr. Excellence Fund for University of Wyoming Geological Museum. They donated $570,000, matched by Wyoming state funds for a total of $1.14 million.

The Mearses referred to their gift as a tribute to the work of "Doc" Knight, who was instrumental in building UW's geology department and who gave his time and work to create the Geological Museum. Upon the designation of their gift the Mearses spoke of the museum's influence on the thousands of people who have visited and enjoyed what it has to offer.

Blalock says the Knight Fund and the Mearses' gift are the foundation of a major fundraising campaign to support the Geological Museum with private funds.

Hand-in-hand with the two funds is the work that's now under way, supervised by Geology and Geophysics Department Head Art Snoke. He leads a committee of UW faculty and administrators that is evaluating the museum and its potential. The result will be a long-term plan for the museum that supports UW's academic mission.

Snoke says the Knight Memorial Fund and the Friends' gift are important steps in achieving self-sustaining private funds for the museum.

"If we are able to raise funds to use all the matching money, we will have $1.5 million in the S.H. Knight Memorial Fund. When this sum is combined with the Mearses' gift, the endowment funds to support the UW Geological Museum will have reached $2.6 million," Snoke says. "In the long term, we hope that even a larger endowment can be built through continued donations from the public and corporations that support the Geological Museum's mission. Such funds could facilitate developing museum displays, renovating the adjacent museum space, and hiring additional staff to carry out the mission of the museum."

These additional goals are now being considered by the task force that's studying the Geological Museum and developing a plan for its future, Snoke says.

The roots of the Geological Museum reach back to 1887, the year the University of Wyoming opened; it was a small natural history museum that consisted of the personal collection of J.D. Conley, a professor who taught a range of courses including geology, astronomy, physics, commercial arithmetic and bookkeeping, among other things.

As UW grew and expanded, so did the museum, its collections and its displays. Wilbur Knight, hired in 1893 as a professor of mining and geology, succeeded Conley as curator of the museum. It was for Knight that the small fossil fish Knightia was named.

Eventually, the collection outgrew its home in the Hall of Language (now Old Main), and most of it found a new one in a wing of the Mechanical Building. When the Hall of Science was completed in 1902, the museum moved there. It stayed there until 1956, when the current structure was built on the east wing of what is now the S.H. Knight Geology Building.

By that time, Knight's son, Samuel Howell Knight, had worked at the university for more than four decades. In that time, he had developed the UW Geology Department into one of the nation's best, and he started the nationally renowned Summer Science Camp -- the camp that brought Nip and Anne Mears to Wyoming. Knight designed the terra cotta bas-relief Stegosaurus and Triceratops panels on the front of the museum, built the copper Tyrannosaurus rex that guards the museum's entrance, and even painted several of the displays inside the museum. He was also responsible for the initial mounting of the Apatosaurus skeleton that is the centerpiece of the museum.

S.H. Knight was celebrated as Wyoming's "Citizen of the Century" in 1999, and his legacy will live on in the fully funded and operational museum that will result from donations to the S. H. Knight Memorial Fund.

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Posted on Thursday, November 05, 2009

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