Yoakum — Walking with clipboard and pencil in hand, adorned with a plastic safari-style hat, 7-year-old Calyx Smith was on a quest.
It was a quest larger than himself that involved searching for his favorite dinosaur: the megalodon shark, and, as the Yoakum first-grader put it, ”I’m not scared of it.”
Calyx was among the dozens of elementary-school children from Yoakum and Providence Christian Academy who stormed into the Yoakum High School gym on Monday morning to experience Dinosaur George’s Traveling Museum, a dinosaur exhibit with more than 100 fossils and artifacts that educate children about prehistoric times and the animals that once called it their home.
“My staff are always looking for new and interesting things to bring to the community,” said Gena Jiral, the Carl and Mary Welhausen Library‘s director. “Dinosaur George has actually been to our library before and put on a small dinosaur show for our summer program. It was brought to my attention that he has this traveling museum, but it was out of our budget.”
It was the first time the library held the event.
After applying for several grants proved unsuccessful, the Community Grant program sponsored by H-E-B supermarket chain provided $5,000, and an additional $1,000 came from from Friends of the Library to make the visit possible, she said. Sand used in the fossil dig was provided by Sweet Home Sand & Gravel.
By Tuesday, children of all grades from the Yoakum Independent School District, St. Ludmilla, Ezzell School, St. Joseph Catholic School and Sweet Home School will have visited the library in hour-long waves to see everything the traveling museum has to offer. An estimated 800 kids were expected on Monday and the other 800 were due on Tuesday, she said. Home-schooled children were invited to visit from 4 to 5 p.m. and the museum will be open to the public from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Jiral said.
“It’s a community-wide event focused on dinosaurs and prehistoric times, just to better educate our children and give them something educational to do within the last couple of weeks of school,” Jiral said. “They just completed their STAAR testing, and the teachers and the kids are looking for something exciting to do, and we decided to bring it to Yoakum with the help of the school district.”
Being in business for the past 25 years, George Blasing, more famously known as “Dinosaur George,” is no stranger to walking into assemblies to enthusiastically educate kids on dinosaurs. Before all of this, Blasing worked as an executive in a big retail company. At the same time, he began to dig up dinosaur bones in the summer and started a collection, he said.
Through the years, the collection grew bigger and more complete until one day a married couple’s car broke down in front of his house and asked for help.
“I opened the door, and the woman saw my house filled with these fossils, and she was a science teacher from a very small, low-income inner-city that nobody would come and ever visit,” Blasing said. “She said, ‘Can you gather some stuff and come visit?’ I did and it changed my life.”
Blasing quit his executive job, dove into the prehistoric times and started the traveling museum, bringing joy and education to nearly 4-million students across the state of Texas over the past 25 years, he said.
“We focus our attention on Texas because it’s such a big state that has so many smaller communities that are not close to major cities, where the local students don’t get the opportunities to go to a major museum,” Blasing said. “Yoakum is a perfect example. There’s kids coming from all over the area to see this. Some of these kids may never get the chance to go to a museum, but today it’s their own private museum.”
Growing up in Hondo, Blasing said he is no stranger to small-town life. Most children only imagine within the scope around them, he said.
“My hope is that they come in, and they have a sense of wonder of what is going on worldwide,” Blasing said. “I hope to encourage more science. I hope to encourage them to look at things beyond the walls of their home, or their yard and their community.”
Between digging for “dinosaur bones” in the sand and walking around to identify different types of dinosaurs, quiet would be the last word to describe the scene inside of the Yoakum gymnasium.
As children bounced around in groups to do a scavenger hunt, searching for the different categories of dinosaurs, some couldn’t help but be fixated, stuck staring in wonder at some of the fossils.
“Twenty minutes ago, a little girl walked by and yelled, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ I hear that a lot. I love seeing the kids’ eyes open when they walk in and see the size and scope. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world,” Blasing said. “Tomorrow will be the greatest day of their life when they see something else, but I get to be a part of making it the best day of their life today.”
Duy Vu is the photo editor for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach him at 361-574-1204.