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Lions, tigers & bears and much more

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This is a close-up of one of the many animals from all over the world on display in the Great Animal Hall featuring the Maurits Osterberg collection.


POSTED March 17, 2012 1:11 a.m.

MODESTO – The Great Valley Museum of Natural History at Modesto Junior College is in the middle of a major exodus.

An exodus that may not be of biblical proportion, but is undoubtedly the biggest and most significant move this institution has ever gone through in the 25 years Molly Flamate has worked at the living laboratory for the community college where she is currently the museum specialist.

But there won’t be any aimless wandering for years in bureaucratic wilderness or fiscal desert before the museum arrives to its promised new building at the MJC West Campus on Blue Gum. The building – actually, a 100,000-square-foot Science Community Center being built to the tune of $70 million making it the biggest project funded by Measure E – is scheduled for completion before the end of this year.  The museum is expected to be in place at its brand-new and much larger venue by spring of 2013, Flemate said.

The museum will be located on the ground floor of the three-story Science Community Center, along with a large lecture hall and offices. But the lion’s share of the space will be taken up by Great Valley Museum, with its permanent and rotating exhibits as the main attractions. The Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear, which are part of the museum’s Great Animal Hall will serve prominent roles at the new and larger museum. They will be sentries in the lobby of the museum, each in their own cases, Flemate explained.

The two gigantic bears and the impressive collection of taxidermy animals from all over the world in the Great Animal Hall comprise the nucleus of this building’s display collectively called the Osterberg Collection. It is named after Maurits Osterberg who donated to the museum his collection of taxidermy animals from Africa, Asia, North and Central as well as South America, and the bears. Inside the aging portable building is a portrait of Osterberg and a framed picture of the taxidermy animals displayed inside his barn that he called The Great Valley Museum.

In another small building is the museum gift store, with the back part of it being used for other museum exhibits including the Habitat Room. The displays here illustrate the six different ecosystems in the Great Central Valley of California. Among the dioramas that can be found here are native plants and animals that live in these ecosystems include oak woodland, valley riparian, freshwater march, grasslands, alkali sink, and vernal pools. Sharing spaces with the dioramas are rotating exhibits that include Tuolumne River Watershed and Curiosity Cabinets.

Everything in the old museum will be moved to the new location, Flamate said. That includes the custom cabinets made out of special wood which were built and donated “by a group of woodworkers in Modesto,” she said.

“There’s a lot of love in this building,” she said as she noted the many supporters, donors, and volunteers who have shepherded the Great Valley Museum and made it happen despite all the odds, financial and otherwise. These include the Omega Nu of Modesto, and Modesto Irrigation District that for years have generously supported the museum’s educational programs.

Great Valley offers various Traveling Teacher programs in addition to classes held at the museum. Another program called Science Suitcases is also available to museum and school members at no cost. For parents who are looking “something new and different” for their child’s birthday, there is the Museum’s Party Animals which is a “fun and educational program” in which live animals will be brought “to your home, park or school.” The animals have been rescued from the wild. Games, riddles, and puppets round out the hour-long children’s presentation. Contact the museum for more information and costs.

The museum is located at 1100 Stoddard Ave. in Modesto, tel. (209) 575-6196.

Museum hours are 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. Admission: $1 individual; $3 for family; free to visitors age 6 and under and to museum members.

To get to the Great Valley Museum from Manteca, take south Highway 99, exit at Briggsmore Avenue, make a right at Tully Road until you reach the Modesto Junior College East Campus on Stoddard Ave. The museum is across the street from the college.

To learn more about the museum, visit

209 staff reporter

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