Each year at this time, the Paleontological Research Institution is proud to recognize a non-professional for their contributions to paleontology. We are especially grateful to MAPS for providing us with this very special opportunity.

The Paleontological Research Institution is a natural history museum located in Ithaca, New York. We house one of the nation’s largest fossil collections, publish the oldest paleontological journal in the Western Hemisphere, and provide educational programs to thousands of people, in the northeastern U.S. and beyond. Like all natural history museums, we depend on the support and involvement of volunteers and other members of the general public. We especially value our interaction with non-professional paleontologists. The Institution, in fact, was established by Gilbert Harris in 1932 as a place where paleontologists with no other affiliation could come to work and study, and it was largely operated by non-professionals for much of its history. Each year, we recognize an individual who is not a professional paleontologist for the excellence of their contributions to the field. This award is named for our second Director, Katherine Palmer, who was an avid supporter of amateur paleontology.

Jerry Gunderson is a middle school teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin, and he has been described as the “consumate professional non-professional paleontologist.” He has been finding fossils for over 50 years and is widely regarded as an expert on the Cambrian of Wisconsin. As these deposits yield few complete specimens of any taxon, this dedication is especially impressive, yet Jerry has persisted where others have given up. He knows that the secret of finding fossils is to look at a lot of rock, and his physical stamina for digging out huge slabs, and patience for pulling them apart, are said to be unparalleled. He has a deep love of and interest in science, which have made his career as a teacher so appropriate and successful. They have also meant that his specimens are collected with careful attention to data on stratigraphic horizon and locality. His main collection is fully computerized, putting him well ahead of many museums! He has donated large numbers of specimens to institutions, including the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. Perhaps most importantly, Jerry has taken numerous graduate students and professionals into the field and generously provided them with specimens and information, thereby making their research possible.

In the early 1980s, Jerry and his friend Ron Meyer discovered fossils of soft-bodied organisms in the Silurian Brandon Bridge Formation near Milwaukee. They informed professionals soon after their discovery, and were responsible for getting Derek Briggs, an expert on the soft-bodied fossils of the famous Burgess Shale from the University of Bristol in Britain, involved in the project. Together with Derek, Don Mikulic, and Joanne Klussendorf of the University of Illinois, they excavated hundreds of specimens from the site, which have been deposited in the collections of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. This fauna has been described as one of the most important Silurian fossil deposits ever discovered.

Although Jerry’s primary love is collecting, he has also authored several papers in the paleontological literature, including a 1993 sole-authored publication in which he described a new genus of late Cambrian gastropod from Wisconsin. The type specimens were deposited in the collections of the Cincinatti Museum of Natural History. He has also had a fossil named after him, the Cambrian trace fossil Raaschichnus gundersoni.

For his dedication, achievement, and excellence in paleontology, the Paleontological Research Institution is pleased to present its 1998 Katherine Palmer Award to Gerald Gunderson.