Archive for September, 2011

A Fond Farewell

Fernbank Museum was saddened to learn that the world lost an important leader in environmental conservation this past weekend after a battle with cancer. Dr. Wangari Maathai, was an advocate for better management of natural resources, and for sustainability, equity and justice.

In 2006, Fernbank Museum was honored to host Dr. Maathai, a 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. An environmental leader from Kenya, she founded the Green Belt Movement to empower women’s groups in Africa by involving them with planting trees to conserve their environment. During her visit to the Museum, Fernbank placed special recognition on her work and its relationship to the Museum’s own environmental mission by planting an Autumn Blaze Maple tree in her honor. Here are a few photos from that day.

“The planting of trees is the planting of ideas.” Dr. Wangari Maathai

The maple tree has continued to grow since Dr. Maathai placed the first mound of soil over the young sapling’s roots. But now this symbolic tree has even greater meaning to Fernbank and Dr. Maathai’s environmental legacy.

For those wishing to express their condolences on the passing of Dr. Maathai, please visit the Facebook page for Wangari Maathai.

—Brandi Berry, Director of Public Relations


September 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

From Galas to Ghostbusters

While the Museum has undergone a number of significant changes over the past few years, one of the most consistent elements is staffing. There are number of employees that have 5, 10, 15, even 20+ years under their belt. Catherine Stolarski is no exception. She’s been at the Museum as a paid staff member since March 2006.

Catherine’s tenure at Fernbank started in summer 2004 when she worked as a Marketing Intern. Her bosses (myself being one of them) were so impressed with her hard work and positive attitude, when a full-time, paid position opened up, Catherine was an immediate choice for the job.

She worked for 2 years as the Group Sales and Marketing Coordinator. As the Museum’s staffing needs changed, Catherine was able (and willing) to take on a new role–her current position as Development Manager.

Catherine's dog "Rosie," a Chihuahua/Pekingese mix

Catherine is responsible for drafting proposals for funding of educational programs, exhibitions and films. She also spearheads planning of the Museum’s annual gala fundraising event, A Timeless Affair; as well as other cultivation events.

Every day is different for Catherine. “I’m constantly changing gears and using different skills, it keeps things interesting,” she said.

Of her many responsibilities, something she enjoys most is showing funders and/or donors our programs in action. “No matter how great a proposal is, nothing compares to showing them programs in action—actually showing them what their support can do for the Museum and the community,” she remarked.

While her job might sound very formal—writing proposals, pulling reports, coordinating and working upscale events—Catherine is decidedly very down-to-Earth. She handles the pressure very well and it’s a rare occasion to not see her smiling.

When she’s not hobnobbing on Fernbank’s behalf, she can usually be found with her nephew Jack (6), her niece Addy (3) and her sister and brother-in-law. Her near-constant sidekick is her dog Rosie.

Her co-workers know she loves to take dance classes, practice yoga and travel. What most do not know is her love for scary movies, especially those about haunted houses. “If I were offered a guest spot on ‘Ghost Adventurers,’ I’d take it,” she said. (And I believe her!)

From starting as an intern to tackling a million dollar fundraising goal, its clear Catherine is dedicated to the Museum. My guess is if we ever need our own ghostbuster, Catherine will be on the job!

—Deanna Smith, Director of Marketing

September 26, 2011 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

Hostess With the Mostess

After 13 years working in Fernbank’s special events department, Jennifer Yard knows her way around an event plan better than a paleontologist knows their way around a dinosaur.

From internal events such as the family-friendly Dinosaur Birthday Bash Weekend, to the upscale gala fundraiser A Timeless Affair, and from high school proms to corporate launch parties, Jennifer seems more like an orchestra conductor or an air traffic controller. Except she isn’t standing in front of the band or hidden away in a tower—she is in the middle of it all—moving chairs, placing linens, testing the microphone.

When it comes to events, she does a little of everything except greet each guest individually. “I’m definitely a behind-the-scenes girl,” she grins.

Her duties vary based on the type of event she’s directing. She coordinates floor plans, works with caterers, helps select and/or provide feedback on entertainment, and for some internal events, has even branched out into floral arrangements.

Before: Flowers for an event.

After attending art school in Atlanta, Jennifer decided she wanted something creative and something hands-on. She joined the Museum’s events department as a general office assistant. As staffing needs changed, her role grew. She is now the Director of Corporate and Social Events.

After: A custom arrangement created by Jennifer

Her current role does offer a lot of creativity, including some very “creative” event requests. “I get a lot of requests to move or hide the [Great Hall] dinos. Or requests to dress them up as a bride or in school colors,” she said.

Her favorite part of the job is at the end of the event, seeing everything come together and watching guests having a good time. Alternately, it’s also the people she works with on a day-to-day basis.

It’s clear she has an especially close tie to the rest of the events department. “We have fun. We work hard, but we also work well together and that makes it fun,” she said. “And bad days? They can always be fixed by shopping in the Museum Store.”

A self-described homebody, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her live-in boyfriend and two cats. She has a never-ending list of home improvement projects that keep her busy when she’s not knitting, making jewelry, sewing or gardening. She even takes time to sit back and relax with a good horror movie. “I’m a Halloween baby. So yes, I love scary movies!” she remarked.

For me, working with Jennifer has been a gift. Who else could help me fit an inflatable pirate ship beneath the world’s largest dinosaurs?

Visit is online for information on how you can host your next event at Fernbank Museum.

—Deanna Smith, Director of Marketing

September 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

Not Your Average Opportunity

There are nearly seven billion people on Earth, and at the moment I was standing in the animal room at the Fernbank Museum, holding a small dead mouse in a forceps to feed to a European legless lizard, a weird thought occurred to me. Right now, there must be millions of people driving their cars. A couple billion, mostly on the other side of the planet, are sleeping. It’s dinnertime in some other time zone, so a vast number of folks are probably eating.

Brett Bannor, holding a legless lizard

But it is possible that at this exact point in time, I am the only individual among the seven billion who is feeding a mouse to a European legless lizard! But—even if there is, by chance, one other person on Earth feeding a mouse to a European legless lizard, is he being paid for it? If so, I’m still unique, because I’m feeding the reptile not as an employee, but as a volunteer.

How did I get so lucky?

Summer of 2009, I decided to volunteer on one of my days off. Like most who give their time in this manner, I thought it would be a way to gain a sense of fulfillment, as well as be helpful to a non-profit organization.

Fernbank Museum is a fascinating place, and it’s a convenient distance from my home, so I contacted Michele Kresge, the Museum’s Manager of Member and Volunteer Services, to ask if I could help. She invited me to an orientation session, where I learned about opportunities for volunteers, and I was acquainted with the Museum’s mission and policies.

After the orientation, Michele contacted me. In the email I had initially sent her, I mentioned that I had a long career taking care of live animals. Michele brought that up and asked me “Would you mind if I arranged for you to meet Lynn Anders, our Animal Care Coordinator? She could really use some help.”

Full disclosure: in those pre-Fernbank NatureQuest days, I had no idea Fernbank Museum even had live animals or an Animal Care Coordinator. But I’m glad it does, because I said yes to Michele and had the pleasure of meeting Lynn. For 2 years I’ve had a wonderful time assisting her in such diverse tasks as weighing an indigo snake, chopping produce to feed a blue-tongued skink, and changing the water in the diamondback terrapin tank. I’ve placed Madagascar hissing cockroaches in a transparent container and shown them to Museum visitors, being able to experience firsthand every possible expression of curiosity or horror the human face is able to show. It’s all been very rewarding.

And of course, I’ve fed mice to European legless lizards. Performing a task like that might not be your preferred way to spend your time. That’s okay—Fernbank has several other opportunities for volunteers, such as greeting guests when they enter the Museum and staffing the information desk at the entrance to the exhibit A Walk Through Time in Georgia. Besides, how many volunteers do you need to feed a rodent to a lizard?  That’s my gig and I’m not crazy about sharing it!

So if you have the time and the interest, I urge you to contact Fernbank Museum about volunteering.  They like people who commit their time almost as much as I like European legless lizards.

–Brett Bannor, Polaris Volunteer

September 6, 2011 at 8:45 am Leave a comment


At Fernbank Museum, there’s much more than dinosaurs and giant-screen films. Even with our website, e-newsletters, Facebook pages and Twitter updates, there’s still a lot we’d like to share with you. This blog is an opportunity for the people that keep Fernbank running and constantly expanding, to share stories from their point of view. We hope you’ll enjoy these first-hand, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into keeping a world-class natural history museum running. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on these stories, to hear your personal experiences and hear any suggestions for topics. Happy reading!