SF College is now home to large geological collection


Becky and Dave O'Brien admire the split coral on display during the John Withey Collection Dedication as the Santa Fe College's science department celebrates the debut of one of North Florida's largest collections of gems, fossils and minerals in Building X at Santa Fe College in Gainesville on Tuesday.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.

Santa Fe College celebrated being the new recipients of one of the largest rock and mineral collections in North Florida Tuesday with a dedication to the collection’s founder.

The college’s new exhibit nests almost 15,000 individual specimens including 50-million-year-old coral, dinosaur fossils, calcite crystals and the prized possession of the Earth Wonders Geological Museum in Bunnell -- a dinosaur egg.

About 80 percent of the collection was donated to SF College by the museum, which had to find a new home for the collection when Flagler County reclaimed the office space the museum was using to exhibit the specimens.

The museum was founded by John Withey, a geology teacher in Flagler County, who decided he wanted to bring science to life for his students. Santa Fe College’s exhibit is dedicated to Withey.

With SF College being the new home for this collection, Withey’s dream to educate and to give everyone a world of rocks will be fulfilled, said Margaret MacDuffie, the president of the board of trustees for the Earth Wonders Geological Museum.

Michael Patrick, professor of natural sciences at Santa Fe, said the college’s collection is a museum now.

“People could literally come out on a weekend, cruise through this museum, then go see a planetarium show,” he said.

The planetarium figured into how the college won the collection. Santa Fe was in competition with other organizations in North Florida.

Erica Nathan, the 15-year-old daughter of a member of Earth Wonders’ board of trustees, said she and her family came to look over Santa Fe to see if it was suitable grounds for the exhibit when her younger brother had a baseball game in Gainesville.

They shot video of the school with their phone to show other members on the board.

“Right away, we loved the environment, the rock garden and planetarium,” she said. “It was just a perfect fit.”

Ed Bonahue, chief academic adviser and provost at Santa Fe, said community colleges are about serving the community. Its students and other members of the community are dedicated to lifelong learning, Bonahue said, and the efforts made to create collections like this one will serve to further engage people in experiential learning in Gainesville.

“This work will live on for future generations, so on behalf of all those future learners, all those children who are going to walk through here, all those community members who are going to walk through here, we say, ‘Thank you,’” Bonahue said.

Patrick, who asked the museum to consider Santa Fe for the relocation, said he believes there is no larger collection in the world of Florida’s state rock, Tampa Bay agatized coral.

Patrick said his favorite piece is called golden barrel. Withey bought it from someone in a mine in Africa. The crystal is worth thousands of dollars, Patrick said.

In the building on campus where the exhibit is located, there is also a painted column that stretches from the floor to the ceiling. On it represents the geologic timescale from Earth’s creation to now.

A 14-foot by 24-foot mural depicting the last 540 million years of Earth’s history will be finished in 2 1/2 weeks. It will accompany the specimen.

“The mural is going to be the icing on the cake,” Patrick said.

The exhibit is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. through 8 p.m.

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