fbpx

February 2017: Honoring Our Founder and Knowing Our History

Natural history museums are as much about the past as they are about the future.

It’s difficult to fully appreciate the present or contemplate the future without an understanding of our history. That’s one reason among many I was so grateful for the community’s participation in a day of remembrance and service in honor of our founder, lighthouse keeper and naturalist Laura Hecox.

On Sunday, January 29th, on what would have been Laura’s 163rd birthday, two dozen community members and Museum supporters joined Hecox relatives to celebrate her memory by dedicating a new headstone at her final resting place. Bill and Brigid Simpkins of Santa Cruz generously donated the headstone depicting the lighthouse and crashing surf where Laura spent most of her life.

Cynthia Chase honors our founderAt Santa Cruz Memorial Cemetery, Mayor Cynthia Chase read a proclamation from the City of Santa Cruz designating January 29th as Laura Hecox Day. And I had the opportunity to talk about the love Laura had for the natural world, collecting shells, and other specimens and artifacts that formed the basis of our Museum, which opened in 1905 while she was still our city’s lightkeeper. Laura’s life served as inspiration for the Santa Cruz Naturalist exhibit that opened in June 2016, the first new permanent addition to the Museum’s galleries in over 20 years.

Clean-up in Lighthouse FieldAfter the graveside ceremony, the Museum led a clean-up project in Lighthouse Field. Laura moved to Lighthouse Field at age 15 when her father assumed the role of the first lightkeeper of the then-new Santa Cruz Lighthouse. She took over her father’s position after his death and continued in that role through most of her life, living in the original lighthouse. Today, in its place, the Mark Abbott Lighthouse now guides vessels around Lighthouse Point. But the field across from West Cliff Drive remains open space full of opportunities to explore. About three dozen volunteers collected over 100 pounds of trash from the field, which was a particularly fitting way to honor Laura and her commitment to stewarding the natural world.

The curiosity and appreciation of nature that defined Laura’s life also informs our desire to be forward-thinking about the future of our environment. Just 10 days before Laura’s birthday, the Museum was delighted to host a sold-out event at the Rio Theatre featuring renowned UCSC geologist Gary Griggs, whose riveting presentation titled “Perils in Paradise” explored Santa Cruz County’s history of and vulnerability to natural disasters.

Doctor Griggs lectures on the geology of Santa CruzDr. Griggs captivated the 550-member audience with an engaging overview of geological processes and a historical look at the most impactful natural disasters of our region, one where earthquakes, landslides, floods, fires and other calamities are an ever-present danger. As several storms wreaked havoc across the county on local cliffs, tributaries and roads, Dr. Griggs’ presentation served as a timely reminder that landmark events such as the 1955 and 1982 floods, or the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, have long shaped our region and that we cannot control nature. That’s a key reason the Museum exists — to share an understanding of the awesomeness of nature and inspire stewardship of it.

Looking ahead to the spring, we have many opportunities to connect our community to nature in innovative, meaningful ways. In February and March, we will offer several events celebrating the natural history of food. And in April, we will launch our first-ever Spring Camp and welcome back the popular The Art of Nature scientific illustration exhibit. More can be found about our upcoming programming and exhibits on our website.

I hope you will join me at some of these exciting opportunities in the coming months.

Thank you,

Heather

Felicia Van Stolk: Executive Director (formerly Education Director)

Felicia Van Stolk, our Executive Director

Spending countless hours in parks, on trails and in tide pools was the perfect training for Executive Director Felicia Van Stolk. The Santa Cruz County native joined the Museum in January 2016 after other endeavors in environmental education and youth literacy.  Felicia was appointed to the Executive Director position in September 2019.  The following was a highlighted post from 2017.

***

Felicia oversees all aspects of the Museum’s educational programming, including both the school and public programs. She leads the Museum’s education team in developing and leading school field trip programs at the Museum and at Neary Lagoon and Pogonip.

Felicia also plans the Museum’s public programming designed to connect members and guests with the natural world, including guided walks and workshops. She plans the monthly Naturalist Night series and a biannual special speaker series.

Her love of nature and activism was nurtured at Aptos High School where she took her first marine biology class and founded the Peace Club, which gave her a platform to plan concerts that led student artists to raise money for peace initiatives.

“I realized how important it was to be engaged in things I care about and to teach people about the things I care about,” Felicia said.

She studied marine biology at UCLA, where her minor was conservation biology. The daughter and granddaughter of teachers, Felicia also directed her keen interest in education and equity toward Project Literacy, where she worked throughout her college career.

In addition to performing fieldwork in Costa Rica and Bodega Bay, she later gained experience at the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City, first as an instructor and later as the organization’s camp manager. A desire to live closer to home brought her back to Santa Cruz County, where she can be found SCUBA diving or walking Manresa State Beach with her dog, Taz.