By MARK EVANS
State and local officials and representatives of the scientific community were on hand Dec. 11, to officially mark the Ste. Genevieve Museum Learning Center grand opening and ribbon-cutting.
Those who spoke all agreed that the museum and its emphasis on dinosaurs, thanks to curator Guy Darrough, should be a huge boost to Ste. Genevieve.
Robert Wolk, president of the museum board of directors, was master of ceremonies. He gave a brief history of how the new museum and its possession of Darrough’s impressive collection came into being.
Guests included Gary Romine, former state senator and current chair of the Missouri Tax Commission; State Representatives Dale Wright and Rick Francis; Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson; Mayor Paul Hassler; tourism director Jeff Wix; Vern Bauman, longtime Levee District No. 3 president; Sandra Cabot, now with the Missouri Department of Economic Development and former Ste. Genevieve tourism director; Akiko Shinya, preparer for the Field Museum in Chicago; paleontologist Peter Makovicky; and, of course, Guy and Doris Darrough, whose authentic fossils and life size dinosaur reproductions form the center of the new museum’s appeal.
Wolk told how the original Ste. Genevieve Museum opened in 1935 in the building (built two years earlier) now occupied by the Sainte Genevieve Art Guild, to help mark the city’s alleged Bicentennial that year.
While it “was a nice museum, focusing on local history, Wolk said it “became complacent and we had a tough time paying our bills.”
“The museum board actually decided we had to do something different,” Wolk said. “We wanted to be a thriving piece of this community and actually contribute to the livelihood of the community.”
That opportunity came about in 2014, when Bauman introduced Wolk to Darrough, who had a dinosaur museum in Bollinger County. Darrough expressed interest in combining museums and establishing a learning center.
He foresaw a center where “the story of life on earth could be explained, from the single cell … on up through life today.” It would be a place “where young and old minds could touch and enjoy life on earth,” Wolk said.
Wolk said Darrough was “a good salesman.” Later, a “think tank” with people like Cabot, Nelson, Wolk, former Mayor Dick Greminger, Bob Roth and others, who hashed out the idea.
Darrough required a professional building and a board that would run things for him before agreeing. The former Koetting store was purchased in 2018 and painstakingly restored. Bacon Commercial Design came up with a design to set up a modern museum and hands-on learning site in the century-old building.
A capital funding campaign was mounted to make this possible.