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Weis Museum Presents ‘Nelson Award’

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“Nelson Award” winner Joe Pohl is congratulated by Dr. Joanne Kluessendorf, director of the WESMThe Weis Earth Science Museum (WESM), located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, was pleased to present its first “Nelson Award” to Joe Pohl, a retired dairy farmer from Belgium, Wisconsin.  Through his passion, generosity, skill, and knowledge, he has made important fossil discoveries, has unselfishly shared important specimens with the scientific community, has helped to advance the historical knowledge of life on Earth, and has served as a shining example of the substantial role that "amateurs" can play in the progress of science.

The Weis Earth Science Museum, the state’s official mineralogical museum, established the “Nelson Award” to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to earth science in Wisconsin or Wisconsinites who have made outstanding contributions to earth science in general.  The award is named for the late Katherine Greacen Nelson, geologist and educator, who had a passion for sharing her knowledge of Wisconsin geology with others.

Even the important responsibilities of the milking schedule couldn’t keep Pohl down on the farm in Ozaukee County if there were fossils to be collected.  Back in the 1970s, he would pile his kids in the car after the morning milking and make a beeline down to the northern Illinois coal strip mines to search for fossils of soft-bodied creatures from the famous Mazon Creek deposit in northeastern Illinois. 

Wanting to learn more about his fossil finds, Pohl began to visit the paleontology curator at the Field Museum in Chicago.  He soon started donating specimens to the museum - especially the weird ones.  In fact, he discovered the earliest-known fossil examples of some animal groups, like the octopus.  Pohl's generosity led paleontologists to a better understanding of evolution as well as of this unique and important fossil deposit.  He was honored for his efforts when several new species from Mazon Creek were named after him.

Pohl wasn't interested in only the flashy Mazon Creek fossils. His love of fossils and dedication to the science of paleontology is demonstrated by his quest for conodonts -microscopic ancestors to vertebrates.  To help scientists who study these tiny but important creatures, Pohl collected shale from western Illinois. He would carefully split them in search of conodont fossils during the long Wisconsin winters. He generously shared his knowledge and the fossils with specialists, who gained new information about this important group of fossil animals.  Once again, scientists showed their appreciation by naming a new species after him.

For more information about the WESM or the “Nelson Award,” contact Dr. Joanne Kluessendorf, director of the WESM, at 920-832-2925 or email joanne.kluessendorf@uwc.edu.


Posted 06/02/2009