2019 Museums of Western Colorado Heritage Award Winners

  • Michale Piontkowski, Archaeological Award honoree, with Curtis Martin
The Museums of Western Colorado’s (MWC) mission is to help the community preserve its heritage and tell its story. However, this is a huge undertaking. For this reason, the MWC appreciates those who have contributed significantly to the community by preserving, researching, and supporting our historical and paleontological legacy. On March 5, the MWC presented the follow honorees with the 2019 MWC Heritage Awards:

2019 Archaeological Award: This award recognizes distinguished and long-term contributions by an individual, group, or organization to the public understanding and appreciation of Mesa County and Western Slope Archaeology.

This year, the Heritage Award Committee selected Michael Piontkowski. Michael is an extremely well-respected archaeologist in western Colorado who has contributed significantly to the knowledge base of the region’s archaeology. He owns and operates the Uncompahgre Archaeological Consultants, serves as an adjunct professor at Colorado Mesa University teaching courses on Cultural Resource Management, and currently works with the Grand Valley Institute and the Dominguez Archaeological Research Group. Previously, Michael had directed several cultural resources programs, served as the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction Field Office archaeologist, managed cultural resource inventories, supervised the design and implementation of computerized database for analyzing archaeological data, written a number of archeological papers focusing on western Colorado, and has been especially active in public education programs.

2019 George Callison Paleontological Award: This award recognizes distinguished and long-term contributions by an individual, group, or organization to the public understanding and appreciation of Mesa County and Western Slope paleontological heritage.

This year’s recipient is Dr. Brooks Britt. Brooks is a dynamic paleontologist and a leading authority on the dinosaurs of the Late Jurassic and Cretaceous systems of western Colorado and eastern Utah. He currently serves as an Associate Professor of Geological Sciences at Brigham Young University and was formerly the MWC Curator of Paleontology from 1993-1998. During his time at MWC, Dr. Britt built several paleontological exhibits that are still on display at Dinosaur Journey. Brooks has mentored citizen scientists and volunteers in both the lab and field. He has authored and co-authored dozens of scholarly works and continues to be a leader in paleontological research in our region.                                                          

Heritage Enterprise Award: This award recognizes a business enterprise that has made distinguished and significant long-term contributions to the preservation of Mesa County’s heritage.

This year, the Heritage Enterprise Award honoree is Gaston Design Inc. In 1991, working with Jim Kirkland and Donald Burge, Rob Gaston discovered the Gaston Quarry in eastern Utah, which produced remains of a giant dromaeosaur that would be the basis for a new species: Utahraptor ostrommaysorum. A large ankylosaur from this same quarry was named in honor of Rob Gaston and Donald Burge: Gastonia burgei. Gaston is a skilled welder and a dinosaur enthusiast, but he will be the first to tell you he is not a paleontologist. However, his expertise and passion led him into the world of creating fossil replicas. In 1996, Robert Gaston founded Gaston Design, Inc. in Fruita which creates museum-quality fossil replicas. He works closely with paleontologists and the most current scientific literature to ensure the accuracy of each replica. It has been a blessing for the MWC’s Dinosaur Journey to be located in the same community as Gaston Design. Many of Gaston’s creation can be found in our museum.  

2019 Historian Award: This award recognizes distinguished and long-term contributions by an individual, group, or organization to the public understanding and appreciation of Mesa County and Western Slope history.

This year, the Historian Award recipient is Nicole Inman. Nicole is the owner/operator of the Chipeta Archaeological Site Investigations. She has been conducting field investigation in western Colorado since 2002, working as archaeologist, historian, and GIS specialist. She has overseen numerous projects from creation to completion as well as conducted research and managed data collections. In 2016 Nicole wrote Images of America: Plateau Valley, which focuses on the history of the Grand Mesa and the communities of Collbran, Plateau City, Mesa, and Molina. 

2019 Museum Service Award: This award recognizes meritorious efforts by an individual, group, or organization in support of the MWC’s mission and vision.

This year, the recipient is Robert Elliott. Rob has been a key and instrumental volunteer with the Museums of Western Colorado since at least 2008. His contributions to the Museum include helping to research the history of the Corn Collection at Cross Orchards, processing a significant number of collections in the Loyd Files Archives for Erin Schmitz and her predecessor Mike Menard, fielding numerous research requests, serving as the museum’s volunteer gunsmith, curating a paper airplane exhibition, authoring a book on the same subject, and helping with David Bailey’s Western Investigation Team.

2019 Partners in Heritage Award: This honor recognizes distinguished efforts of an individual, group, or organization in the preservation of Mesa County’s heritage.  This year, the committee gave out two Partners in Heritage Awards. 

The first recipient is Yvonne Peterson. Yvonne has been instrumental in the preservation of the Lower Grand River Valley heritage. When the 100-year class reunion of Fruita High School graduates left funds for such a task, Yvonne saw this as an opportunity to save the history of Fruita and the surrounding area. That led to the forming of the Lower Valley Heritage Chapter and, in 1993, the creation of the “Heritage Room” in the Fruita Civic Center. Over the years, with the help of volunteers, Yvonne has gathered in the history and artifacts of that community. For example, 2014, she specifically worked to save the back issues of the Fruita Times when that newspaper ceased operation. As the leader of the Lower Valley Historical Chapter, Yvonne has been referred to has the clearinghouse and caretaker of Fruita’s Heritage. 

The second honoree of the Partners in Heritage Award is Jim Doody. Not all of our heritage is history was made long ago. Some of that heritage is much more recent. Many young men and women from western Colorado served in Vietnam and at least 63 of them from our community paid the ultimate sacrifice in that conflict. One of those men was Tom Doody, who was unfortunately lost when his Huey helicopter went down on February 8, 1971. In his brother’s memory, Jim Doody started a grass-roots campaign to commemorate Vietnam veterans who came from western Colorado. They had the dream of creating the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial. Jim’s desire was to honor the men and women who served in the United States Armed Force during the Vietnam War, 1959 to 1975. Jim and others raised over $42,000 (not including thousands of dollars’ worth of services and material donated in-kind), secured land from the State of Colorado, persuaded the City of Fruita to incorporate the property into their Park System, broke ground in March 2002, started construction in December 2002, and dedicated the Memorial on July 4, 2003. The “Welcome Home” statues were added in 2007 and a scholarship program has also been developed. Jim’s dedication to honor his brother Tom as well as all those who fought in Vietnam has insured that this part of our community’s heritage will not be lost.

It is an honor and privilege for our Museum to be able to recognize leaders and organizations who have contributed so significantly to the community’s heritage. 

The recipient of the George Callison Paleontology Award received a mounted cast Dinosaur claw cast while the other honorees were presented with a specially framed historical photograph from the MWC’s collection. This event was sponsored in part by Whitewater Hill Winery.