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May 3, 2007
Contributions to Science, Education are recognized

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Thursday, May 3, 2007

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Six awards were presented during the Virginia Museum of Natural History Foundation's 20th annual Jefferson Awards ceremony on Wednesday.

The awards honor individuals and corporations for outstanding contributions to natural science and natural science education.

Recipients were Dr. William M. Kelso, an Ohio native who received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science; Dr. Jeffrey Kirwan of Virginia Tech, who received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education; Hooker Furniture Corp., which received the William Barton Rogers Corporate Award; Debbie J. Lewis of Martinsville, who received the William Barton Rogers Individual Award; Charity League of Martinsville & Henry County, which received the Matthew Fontaine Maury Distinguished Service Award; and Gael Marshall Chaney of Martinsville, who received the Dr. Noel T. Boaz Director's Award.

Dr. Nicholas Fraser, curator of vertebrate paleontology and director of research and collections at VMNH, said Virginia archaeology is Kelso's true passion.

Although many archaeologists were convinced the original James Fort and its remnants were lost in the James River, Kelso fortunately "was not among that band ... ," Fraser said.

Kelso began excavating in Williamsburg in 1994 and by 1997 announced that artifacts from James Fort had been recovered, he said.

Since then, Kelso has "been able to put together an extremely clear" picture "of what life was like for many settlers," Fraser said, adding that Kelso is "truly an inspiration to aspiring archaeologists."?

Kelso was unable to attend the awards ceremony, according to a statement read by Nancy Bell, director of development at VMNH.

"It is with deep gratitude that I accept" the honor, Bell read. "I'm deeply appreciative of this award."?

Dr. Max Wingett, president of Patrick Henry Community College, presented the award for contributions to natural science education to Kirwan.

Like keynote speaker Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant, Kirwan was familiar with Jared Diamond's book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." He talked about Diamond's concept of "landscape amnesia," which occurs when "generation after generation forgets what the landscape was like before them."?

That becomes a problem because each generation "accepts a lower baseline of resources" than the generation before, Kirwan said. Preserving "natural history is probably the most important thing we do."?

Lewis, president of the VMNH Foundation, presented the William Barton Rogers Corporate Award to Hooker Furniture for its "continued generosity to Martinsville and Henry County." She listed community efforts that had received support from Hooker.

Larry Ryder, chief financial officer of Hooker, accepted the award.

Tim Gette, executive director of VMNH and chief executive officer of the VMNH Foundation, presented the William Barton Rogers Individual Award to Lewis.

A "passionate volunteer" at the museum, Gette said no task is too small for Lewis, whether setting a "gala table to outfitting a dinosaur."?

Lewis said the museum staff, board of trustees and others "are very inspirational to me."?

Dave Sweet, vice president of the VMNH Foundation, presented the distinguished service award to the Charity League. It was accepted by league President Cindy Edgerton.

The club has sponsored a variety of programs designed to help support underprivileged youngsters since its inception in 1931, "and this organization's been helping children ever since," Sweet said.

Most recently, the league donated $50,000 to the museum earmarked for classrooms, he said.

In presenting the Dr. Noel T. Boaz Director's Award to Chaney of Martinsville, a volunteer at the museum, Gette said she "is the kind of friend who's content to work quietly yet tirelessly behind the scenes."?

Chaney also is dedicated, having worked since the museum opened in 1984, he said.

"I'm extremely honored, but at the same time I have to feel humbled," Chaney said. "My efforts would have amounted to nothing had it not been" for the support of others.

The VMNH "is a reality because somebody believed it was possible," Chaney said. "I'm so grateful to everyone who's made it possible. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and I thank God."?

Norfolk Southern, PHCC, Virginia Tech, Memorial Hospital and the VMNH Foundation sponsored the awards luncheon, which was held at Chatmoss Country Club.