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MSU Department of Earth Sciences Donates Fossils to Teen who Lost Collection in Bridger Foothills Fire


September 23, 2020

By Meaghan MacDonald-Pool, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — Adam Mendelsohn and his family watched helplessly on Sept. 5 as distant wildfires crept closer to their house off Jackson Creek Road.

It was just before Bridger Canyon Road closed and mandatory evacuations were ordered as the Bridger Foothills fire raged. The family’s home, which they had lived in for two and a half years, was destroyed that night. They lost everything.

“I was completely terrified and sad and crying a lot,” said Mendelsohn, 13. “But it’s more of the memories and not as much about the house.”

The Mendelsohns went to stay at a family member’s ranch off Bridger Canyon Road. A few days later, buckets in hand, Adam went with his father, Jason, and grandmother, Addie Theisen, to try and extinguish embers across from Theisen’s property and keep more destruction at bay.

Andrew Laskowski, an assistant professor at Montana State University, was struck by the family’s story when he saw it while scrolling through photos on the Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s website.

A caption for pictures of Mendelsohn and his family noted that Mendelsohn lost a large collection of fossils in the fire. “But at least my family is OK,” he told the newspaper.

Laskowski, a member of the Department of Earth Sciences in the College of Letters and Science, brought up the story in a department meeting and suggested they help him rebuild his collection.

“Because I am in the Department of Earth Sciences, I know there are fossils hanging around everywhere, and I was looking for a way to make a difference and help make the situation a little bit better as best as I could,” Laskowski said. “I sent out an email to other faculty members and some grad students to see if anyone had samples to get together.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Mendelsohn and his mother, Ronni, came to MSU to receive the package of fossils. It contained a pouch to help the teen collect more fossils, pieces of petrified wood from across the U.S., bone and shell fossils, and casts of a T. rex tooth and a Deinonychus claw from the Museum of the Rockies. The fossils were donations from the personal collections of faculty members and graduate students.

“I hope this helps you out with the loss of your own fossils. I know when you collect your own it’s probably more valuable than getting gifted specimens, but we really wanted to help rebuild your collection and keep you on that track,” Laskowski said while presenting Mendelsohn with the fossils.

A small group of other members of the Earth Sciences faculty were in attendance. Some explained to Mendelsohn what they donated and where the pieces were from.

“It’s really exciting. When you find fossils yourself, it’s really interesting to see where you can discover them, but when you get them from other people, it just makes it even more special and you’ll always remember where you got them from,” Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn, originally from central Florida, has been fascinated by fossils since he first visited the Museum of the Rockies seven years ago while visiting his grandparents. They toured the fossils exhibits, and he was enamored with the specimens and the giant T. rex that commands the room.

Since then, he collected hundreds of fossils and pieces of petrified wood. He even found a wooly rhino tooth and shark teeth in Bridger Creek that ran through his backyard. Although he is not sure about his future, he would like to pursue a career in paleontology when he’s older.

“I think it’s great when the university can do this sort of outreach to our community because we are a part of it, too. And when this stuff happens, MSU is all in,” said Michael Babcock, head of the Department of Earth Sciences. “This is what I love about Bozeman. These are really challenging times for everybody, and it’s great to be able to see so many people come together to help Adam in a time of need.”


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