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April 22, 2010
Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Thursday, April 22, 2010

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Scientific achievements and contributions from around the state were recognized Wednesday at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.


More than 70 people attended the museum's 23rd annual Thomas Jefferson Awards, according to museum spokesman Zach Ryder. The awards honor Virginia businesses, groups and individuals for their contributions to, and support for, the natural sciences.

"The museum is a tremendous treasure right here in Martinsville. It is a spectacular resource," said keynote speaker Dr. Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech.

Rick Wunderman, Ph.D., presented the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science to Sharon Simkin. She accepted the award on behalf of her late husband, Tom Simkin, Ph.D., who had served as volcanologist and petrologist emeritus in the department of mineral sciences at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History.

The award is presented to a person who has consistently made outstanding contributions to natural history.

"Tom was a bold guy. He held his views and was not afraid to be unorthodox," said Wunderman.

Wunderman said Simkin researched volcanoes by "plotting everything, even the economic impact." He said Simkin's studies can help scientists to learn more about volcanoes in the future.

There is still a lot to understand, such as "ash clouds and how they effect the weather," said Wunderman.

Jeff Kirwan, Ph.D., extension specialist and professor for Virginia Tech's department of forestry, presented the Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education. The award was presented to both Byron Carmean, instructor of horticulture for the Chesapeake County Public Schools, and Gary Williamson, retired park naturalist with the Virginia state parks.

This award is presented to a Virginia educator who has consistently made outstanding contributions to natural history, environmental and science education in either the formal or non-formal sectors.

"Byron and Gary have spent every weekend of their lives over the past 30 years going out and looking at big trees," said Kirwan. Throughout that time, both men discovered several important old and large trees in Virginia, he said.

"They work together, so I always think of them simultaneously, and together their contributions to science and science education are phenomenal," he said.

Caroline County received the William Barton Rogers Corporate Award, which is presented to an entity that has shown significant support for the natural sciences in Virginia, through contributions to research, science education or other relevant programs of the museum.

Gary Wilson accepted that award on behalf of the county, where he works as director of economic development and tourism. It was presented by Allen Dooley, Ph.D., assistant curator of paleontology at VMNH, who said that the Caroline County Visitor Center has an exhibit that VMNH helped create to educate visitors on the scientific aspects of the area.

T. Marshall Hahn Jr., Ph.D., president emeritus of Virginia Tech, received the William Barton Rogers Individual Award, which is presented to an individual who has shown significant support for the natural sciences in Virginia, through contributions to research, science education, or other relevant programs of the museum.

Winistorfer, who presented the award, said Hahn contributed to the museum by donating a collection of mammal mounts. He said the "Hahn Hall of Mammals" will open at the museum later this year and expose visitors to different types of wild animals.

Elizabeth Moore, Ph.D., curator of archeology at VMNH, presented an award to Thomas Fleenor, archaeology volunteer at VMNH, in memoriam. Fleenor received the "Matthew Fontaine Maury Distinguished Service Award, which is presented to a person or corporation that has provided exemplary service in the development of VMNH. His widow, Marty Fleenor, accepted the award.

"Tom was a lover of the outdoors and had a great interest in archaeology, both in the fieldwork and what we can learn from the past," said Moore.

Dr. Lauck "Buck" Ward, curator emeritus of invertebrate paleontology at VMNH, received the Noel T. Boaz Director's Award, presented to a person or organization selected by the museum's director. The award is given to someone who has made significant contributions through volunteer efforts or financial support that enable the museum to be a more successful institution and to secure its future as a great museum benefiting all citizens of Virginia.

VMNH Executive Director Joe Keiper presented the award to Ward, noting that it was his "first time" selecting and presenting a Noel T. Boaz Director's Award. He said that Ward "continues to make scientific contributions and comes in every day despite retirement."

The Jefferson Awards were sponsored by Norfolk Southern, Bruce Wingo, Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources.

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