VMNH moves awards event to capital

February 6, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Museum of Natural History is striving for more of a statewide presence, which is why it will hold a major event in Richmond this week.

The 25th Annual Thomas Jefferson Awards ceremony will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Library of Virginia on East Broad Street.

Unlike many state-funded museums, which are located in capital cities or metropolitan areas, the natural history museum has been in Martinsville since it was founded as a private institution in 1984. It moved into a new building on Starling Avenue in 2007.

Martinsville-Henry County and all of Southside will continue being of utmost importance to the museum, said Executive Director Joe Keiper.

Most of the museum’s support and visitors through the years have been from the region, officials have said.

But “we do serve a wide constituency throughout the state,” Keiper said. “We are the Virginia Museum” of Natural History, not a local museum.

He mentioned, for example, that the museum offers educational programs and has exhibits elsewhere in Virginia, such as in state parks.

The Library of Virginia is across from the General Assembly, which will make it easy for lawmakers to attend the awards program, he noted.

“In challenging economic times, we thought it would be appropriate to take our message” to them, Keiper said. “We hope to bring a positive, powerful message from Southside to the General Assembly that we are a strong, credible scientific and educational institution.”

That should increase the museum’s chances of not seeing its state funding reduced, he surmised. He noted that the museum essentially has been level-funded for the past two years.

According to Keiper, members of the museum’s board of directors, as well as the museum foundation’s board, will visit lawmakers’ offices in Richmond next week and lobby against funding reductions.

In addition, Keiper said he will address a meeting of the General Assembly’s Rural Caucus to discuss how the museum helps educate Virginians about the state’s natural history and attracts visitors to Southside.

By holding the awards ceremony in Richmond, Keiper said, the museum also hopes to make contact with potential new donors — including companies not based in Southside.

The museum needs as much “corporate underwriting” as possible, he said, to help pay costs that state funding does not cover. As examples of those costs, he cited guest speakers for programs and lodging for teachers from elsewhere in the state who attend summer workshops at the museum but cannot afford to pay their own lodging expenses.

During the awards ceremony, the museum will present:

• The Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science to Dr. Richard Bambach, professor emeritus in the Department of Geological Sciences at Virginia Tech.

Bambach also is a research associate in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

• The Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education to Suzie Gilley, wildlife coordinator/Project WILD state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

• The Thomas Jefferson Award for Conservation to the Garden Club of Virginia.

• The William Barton Rogers Corporate Award to the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Keiper, who will be the awards ceremony’s keynote speaker, noted that no Martinsville-Henry County residents, organizations or businesses will receive awards during the ceremony.


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