Each spring, the Paleontological Research Institution is proud to recognize a nonprofessional for outstanding contributions to the field of paleontology. It is with great pleasure that PRI presents its 2012 Katherine Palmer Award to Edward P. Dobrzanski.

The Katherine Palmer Award is named for PRI’s second director, Katherine van Winkle Palmer, who held avocational paleontologists in high regard and collaborated with many during her long career. PRI has presented this award almost every year since 1993. We are especially grateful to the Mid-America Paleontology Society for providing us with a very special venue at which to present this award over much of that time.

Ed Dobrzanski was nominated for this award by Graham Young (The Manitoba Museum), Robert Elias (University of Manitoba), and David Rudkin (Royal Ontario Museum). Their elegantly worded nomination follows largely unaltered below.

Ed Dobrzanski has been described as a “gentleman paleontologist,” a throwback to the naturalists of the nineteenth century. While it is a fact that he has been a life-long collector of fossils and other unusual objects, he was for many years employed as an applied scientist, a meteorologist for Environment Canada. It was only following retirement from public service in 1995 that he was able to pursue his passion for fossils as a virtually full-time avocation.

Growing up in the rough-and-tumble neighborhoods of north-end Winnipeg, Ed developed an early interest in science and in fossils in particular. As a boy, he would cycle to the famous Ordovician locality of Stony Mountain a few miles north of the city, where he would collect brachiopods, corals, and cephalopods. Ed attended the University of Manitoba and considered becoming a geologist. However, after some unpleasant experiences as a summer geology field assistant in remote northern Manitoba, he turned to meteorology as a career choice.

At the end of a government career that took him across Canada over 30 years, Ed found himself back in Winnipeg, with an early retirement buyout courtesy of staff reductions. Not losing a step, he turned his volunteering at The Manitoba Museum into a daily activity. Ed started off doing basic cataloging and collections work, first with then-curator George Lammers, and later with George’s successor Graham Young. Ed prepared fossil vertebrates such as bison and mosasaurs, but he rapidly began to apply to the museum’s collection his broad reading and deep understanding of many groups of organisms.

Ed has become the Museum’s resident expert on groups as diverse as Ordovician brachiopods and cephalopods, Devonian fishes, and Holocene marine bivalves. He has cataloged and researched an extraordinary range of fossils, sometimes referring to his superb personal library and collection. Over the years, he has donated many specimens to The Manitoba Museum. The bulk of these are fossils, nearly 3,000 specimens to date, but he has donated hundreds of other objects from minerals to antique bottles and axes. Some of the fossils were collected during days scouring the classic Ordovician sites at Garson and Stony Mountain, but many others are items acquired over the years, representing all geological periods and many parts of the world: trilobites, dinosaur teeth, coprolites, fishes, insects in amber, and numerous others. Ed extended his generosity to the Royal Ontario Museum as well, donating hundreds of beautifully prepared and documented Ordovician fossils to the ROM’s Invertebrate Paleontology collections.

It is, however, as a research contributor that Ed has really shone. He has assisted with fieldwork for The Manitoba Museum and the University of Manitoba since 1995, in the Winnipeg region and various parts of northern Manitoba. This has included projects as demanding as floatplane- and boat-based work on Lake Winnipeg. Ed was an important collaborator in the discovery of the world’s largest trilobite, Isotelus rex, and to the finding of rare soft-bodied fossils at two important new Ordovician sites: William Lake and Airport Cove. In the Churchill area, Ed’s skill and experience with a shotgun were essential, as he protected the team against polar bears during work on the shore of Hudson Bay. Ed is a GPS expert, has knowledge of surveying techniques, and is a stickler for detail and precision in everything he does. As a result, he has been a key member of various field teams, working with Bob Elias from the University of Manitoba, Dave Rudkin from the Royal Ontario Museum, Godfrey Nowlan from the Geological Survey of Canada, scientists from the Manitoba Geological Survey, as well as with Graham Young of The Manitoba Museum. Ed has also conducted field work on this own, discovering new localities, keeping track of developments at existing sites, and maintaining personal contacts who provide information and access that would otherwise be unavailable. Back in the lab, Ed processes samples to extract conodonts and other microfossils, trims fossil slabs, and prepares lithologic samples. The level of Ed’s scientific professionalism is indicated by his co-authorship of three refereed papers, one geological survey report, one major guidebook, and 24 conference abstracts.

Ed has also guided other researchers on field projects in Manitoba, most notably helping Jisuo Jin, Rong-yu Li, and Jan Audun Rasmussen as they looked at various kinds of Paleozoic fossils. He has been involved in paleontological education and outreach – assisting numerous undergraduate and graduate students with field, laboratory, and core analysis aspects of their projects, handling countless fossil identifications for the public, training fossil site guides, and making presentations to local amateur societies. He has contributed to specimen selection and copy development for various museum exhibits, including the award-winning Ancient Seas animated diorama, which depicts life along the Ordovician shoreline at Churchill.

Ed’s unstoppable drive, untiring enthusiasm, and love of field work are inspirational. His extensive and ongoing contributions to paleontology are unparalleled within the amateur sphere in Manitoba.

PRI is pleased to present this year’s Katherine Palmer Award to Ed Dobrzanski.

Ed Dobrzanski’s publications

ELIAS, R.J., G.A. YOUNG, G.S. NOWLAN, E.P. DOBRZANSKI, AND D.M. RUDKIN. 1999. Ordovician-Silurian boundary section discovered near Churchill, Manitoba: preliminary report. In, P. Kraft and O. Fatka (eds.), Quo vadis Ordovician? Short Papers of the 8th International Symposium on the Ordovician System (Prague, June 20-25, 1999). Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Geologica, 43(1/2):. 229-232.

RUDKIN, D.M., G.A. YOUNG, R.J. ELIAS, AND E.P. DOBRZANSKI. 2003. The world’s biggest trilobite – Isotelus rex new species from the Upper Ordovician of northern Manitoba, Canada. Journal of Paleontology, 77(1): 99-112.

YOUNG, G.A., R.J. ELIAS, AND E.P. DOBRZANSKI. 2003. GS-23 Paleozoic drillcore from the Churchill area, northern Manitoba: preliminary results (NTS 54K and 54L). Report of Activities 2003, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 171-177.

YOUNG, G.A., R.J. ELIAS, S. WONG, AND E.P. DOBRZANSKI. 2008. Upper Ordovician Rocks and Fossils in Southern Manitoba. Canadian Paleontology Conference, Field Trip Guidebook No. 13, CPC-2008 Winnipeg, The Manitoba Museum, 19-21 September 2008, 97 p.

YOUNG, G.A., D.M. RUDKIN, E.P. DOBRZANSKI, S. ROBSON, AND G.S. NOWLAN. 2007. Exceptionally preserved Late Ordovician biotas from Manitoba, Canada. Geology, 35(10): 883-886.