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Virginia Living Museum kicks-off 50th Anniversary

September 25, 2015 Virginia Living Museum kicks-off 50th anniversary: announces year-long celebration and $5 million campaign

A permanent dinosaur trail and a new animal care facility are part of a 50th anniversary $5 million Future Ready campaign for sustainability and science achievement that the Virginia Living Museum announced Thursday.

Campaign Chair Charles W. Wornom announced pledges totaling $2.4 million toward the $5 million goal during a reception for founders and donors that kicked off the museum’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration.

The evening honored the museum’s founders, “the thinkers and dreamers who built our community museum with energy, vision, elbow grease and even a little song and dance,” said museum Executive Director Page Hayhurst. The museum was the vision of Harry Wason who inspired the Warwick Rotary Club and Junior League of Hampton Roads to become the founding organizations. Founding members present were: Lois Bowman, Mary Sherwood Holt, Bobby Beck, David Peebles, Harry Wason and the families of Monk Abbitt, Swanson Hornsby and Harry Kostel.

Capital projects included in the comprehensive campaign are a new building to provide state-of-the-art care for the museum’s larger animals, a playful sculpture of a black bear family by David Turner, and a Dinosaur Discovery Trail. This new outdoor permanent exhibit with near life-sized, scientifically accurate dinosaurs set in the woods will open in fall 2016.

The Future Ready campaign is also designed to:

  • Decrease dependence on public funds from the City of Newport News.
  • Promote science education and initiate career pathways for our region’s youth.
  • Increase services to underserved groups and active duty families in our region.
  • Provide sanctuary and state-of-the-art veterinary care for non-releasable wildlife.
  • Contribute to the conservation of Virginia’s wildlife and environment.

“This museum is truly built by the community, beloved by the community and sustained by the community” said Wornom. Future Ready campaign lead gift donors recognized at the reception include: Anonymous Benefactor, National Exterminating – Randy and Carol Abbitt, Charlie and Mari Ann Banks, Consumer Litigation Associates – Leonard Bennett and Drina Northam, Ferguson, Petters Family Foundation, Riverside Health System, TowneBank, and Harry and Judy Wason.

Joseph R. Witt, chair of the 50th celebration, said the year-long celebration is designed to raise awareness of the museum, increase access and service to the community, and raise endowment for sustainability.

The public celebration begins in November with a revised version of the “Star of Wonder” planetarium show. “Star of Wonder” has been shown since the Peninsula Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium opened in November 1966. A time capsule will be buried during the annual family-friendly Noon Year’s celebration on Dec. 31.

Big Bugs will invade the museum Dec. 31 – April 17. This larger-than-life animatronic exhibit will feature seven super-sized bugs, a caterpillar photo-op and a display of live bugs, all designed to showcase a bug’s life and why bugs are important. The always popular animatronic dinosaurs return for the indoor summer exhibit (May 7 – Sept. 5), to be joined in the fall by the Dinosaur Discovery Trail, a new permanent outdoor dinosaur trail and fossil collecting/ID station.

An Enchanted Otter 50th Anniversary Masked Ball May 6 and a Golden Boot Scootin’ fundraiser in the fall will join the museum’s two signature fund-raising events, Bacchus Wine and Food Festival in February and Oyster Roast in November.

Major anniversary events in 2016 include Jack Hanna on April 1, Garden Fest April 24, Raptor Day May 21 and Wildlife Art Show Oct. 21-23. The celebration will conclude on Nov. 13, 2016, the actual anniversary date, with a Community Birthday Party.

“Every great accomplishment begins with a vision. Over time the vision is teased and shaped and molded. With luck, you may even be able to mature along with your vision and enjoy the resulting achievement. Harry Wason had a vision. He selected a fine group of comrades, leaders and friends and together they created a place for family adventure, discovery and joy,” said Rolf Bartschi, president Board of Trustees.

Harry and Judy Wason’s leadership gift is the 8-foot “Black Bear Family” statue. Created by David Turner and located in the museum’s Conservation Garden, “the statue is a spectacular homage to our 50 years of natural science education and will stand tall for at least as many years to come,” Bartschi said.

Honorary chairs of the museum’s 50th anniversary are: William B. Downey, Mary Sherwood Holt, John R. Lawson II, C. Michael Petters, Frank W. Roach, Congressman Bobby Scott, Paul S. Trible, Jr., Harry H. Wason and Congressman Rob Wittman.

Charles W. Wornom chairs the Campaign Committee whose members are:  Randy Abbitt, Mari Ann Banks, Rolf Bartschi, Alonzo R. Bell, Jr., William R. Ermatinger, George R. Goodson, Jr., Kathy A. Howell, John Q.A. Mattern II, Donald N. Patten, Brian K. Skinner, James B. Thomas, Jr. and Joseph R. Witt.

The 501(c)3 non-profit museum is located at 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News. For more information call 757-595-1900 or visit


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