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2008 Skinner Award Recipient

Chuck Schaff

Chuck Schaff

My humble beginnings began in the borough of Queens, NY on June 18, 1941. Interest in paleontology was developed at very early age by my mom and dad taking me to the American Museum of Natural History and touring the paleontology fossil halls. From then on I was pretty much hooked on vertebrate paleontology. I was curious why fossil animals did not look like modern ones.

After graduating from high school, I enrolled in the geology/paleontology program at West Texas State University in Canyon, TX. Today it is known as West Texas A&M University. My interest in vertebrate paleontology was further nurtured by the university's close proximity to Palo Duro Canyon and other fossiliferous locations in and near the Texas Panhandle.

Going from New York to Texas was like going to another planet. I went from skyscrapers and city life to flat rolling plains and cowboys ... and I loved every minute of it. It didn't take long before this Yankee strapped on his first pair of boots and cowboy hat. Soon I was walking though the second largest canyon in the United States dressed like the Duke and learning firsthand about rock formations; it was a great time of discovery and growth.

After receiving my degree from West Texas State University in 1964, I began my professional career at the Princeton University Museum of Natural History working with Professor Glenn Jepsen and Dr. Donald Baird. I also had the honor of being introduced to Mike Archer, undergraduate student in the prep lab, and Bob Rainey, who I credit for providing much of what I know today about vertebrate paleontology. I still use Bob's methodology when introducing students and other professionals to the world of vertebrate paleontology.

In 1967, I applied for a preparatory position at the Yale University Peabody Museum working under the direction of Professor A. W. (Fuzz) Crompton, director of the Peabody Museum. This position introduced me to a new exciting world to work in and new time periods. I would now be focusing on the early Tertiary and Mesozoic periods looking for and preparing the earliest mammals.

In 1969, Fuzz asked me if I would be interested in a position at Harvard, at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) to continue my fossil preparation career on Mesozoic mammal skeletons from South Africa. I accepted and began working at Harvard University in 1970. I enjoyed working the last 37 years at the MCZ as a collection manager with Professor Farish A. Jenkins, Jr., curator of the Vertebrate Paleontology Department and Bill Amaral, chief preparator. I recently retired on August 31, 2007.

The fieldwork experience, during my time at Harvard, was instrumental in helping me learn how to participate and train myself in both field and lab techniques. As I look back on my career, I am very proud of my contributions to this dynamic field of study. I really enjoyed teaching students how to find fossils on the outcrops while doing fieldwork in remote areas.

I am a lucky man to have had such a rewarding career that was more of a passion than a job. It allowed me to travel to many places, both domestic and international, and meet many great people. Besides family and friends, I wish to thank my colleagues who supported and worked with me throughout my wonderful career. Again, I am lucky to have been surrounded by such a fine group of professionals that share the same passion.

I had the privilege to work with Morris Skinner at the Frick Lab at American Museum of Natural History during the summer of 1961. As a result, this award is very special to me, and I am extremely honored to be its recipient on this night October 18th, 2008.

 

Photo courtesy of Chuck Schaff.