Almost three weeks ago, the Bridger Foothills Fire destroyed a family’s home, filled with memories, comfort, and security — everything, including a 13-year-old boy’s most prized possession, his fossil collection.
“I really did not think about my fossil collection until later the next day when we knew it was safe and we went to see our house. You know, just looking there and thinking where everything was and I remembered my fossil collection which made me really upset,” said Adam Mendelsohn.
Before September 4, the Mendelsohn family had been living in their home in Bridger Canyon after it was built just two and a half years ago. “I loved the house. It was always awesome. I loved the cabin just being made out of logs and everything, but it’s more of like what I’ve done there, had our friends over, parties, family, and what we’ve done to the house,” Adam said.
But the wildfire consumed the home and everything in it. “Oh, I was in complete tears. I was sad. I was terrified, just everything,” he said.
But that’s not the end to Adam’s story or his fossil collection.
“First this guy named Charles Post, he reached out to me on Instagram and he actually gave me a megalodon tooth and a seabed, which is really cool," Adam said. "And then MSU reached out to my mom and they put together this whole kit and everyone donated things. It was like a fossil drive,” he said.
Andrew Laskowski, an assistant professor at Montana State University, was struck by the family’s story, according to an MSU news release. Laskowski, a member of the MSU Department of Earth Sciences, 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.”
Last week, 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.
The young fossil collector is originally from Florida and was in disbelief by the effort from his new Montana community. “Just knowing how great everyone here is in Montana, it just makes me really happy. The community’s great and it just makes this place better than it already is,” he explained.
“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, in a news release. “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.”
Despite what the Mendelsohn family has been through, they say they refuse to feel sorry for themselves and look forward to moving on and rebuilding their lives.