Volunteer Spotlight: Kenny Brown

The Museum of Geology has had a number of volunteers over the years. The late Bill Schurmann, for example, devoted over twenty years to daily fossil prep and even had a mosasaur named after him, Globidens schurmanni (Martin 2007). This week we had a chat with one of our current volunteers, Kenny Brown. Kenny lives on a wonderful piece of land southeast of Rapid City with abundant exposures of the Cretaceous Pierre Shale. He’s spent his life raising cattle to fund both his cutting horse addiction and his love of fossils. Kenny still works with local high school students training them to ride cutting horses.

TTIS: Kenny, how did your love of fossils get started?

KB: In about 1955, someone from the School of Mines, possibly Reid MacDonald, came and gave a talk at my school. They were asking us to look for fossils in the black shales with yellow bentonites, particularly those of the Cretaceous bird Hesperornis. I went home to the ranch, began looking, and soon found a jaw of the fish Ichthyodectes. From then on I started picking up everything I found and stored them in one of the ranch sheds.

TTIS: Where did your interest go from there?

KB: In about 1960 I became acquainted with Glen Jepsen of Princeton. Glen taught me a great deal about fossils and we spent time together when he was in the area until his death in 1974. I sent five bird specimens and one turtle back to Princeton with him. Since then I’ve had paleontologists from around the world visit my ranch and I’ve been to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meetings twice, once in Oklahoma and once in Pittsburgh.

TTIS: How did you become associated with the Museum of Geology?

KB: In the early 90s Jim Martin and Gordon Bell contacted me and we started actively collecting fossils again. Dan Varner [well known late paleontology artist] and Bill Schurmann spent a lot of time at my place as well. The first thing they found was a partial pterosaur wing. When I retired last year I began coming to the museum to prepare fossils.

TTIS: What other types of fossils have been found on your ranch?

KB: Over the years we’ve found mostly Hesperornis, but there have also been a number of mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, turtles, fish, sharks, Baculites, Scaphites, clams, oysters, and Teredo bored wood.

TTIS: What are you working on now?

KB: I’m preparing a mosasaur tail section, Platecarpus. I’m also helping some of the graduate students with digital mapping projects both in the lab and out on my ranch.

Kenny Brown with his current project.
Kenny Brown with his current project.

TTIS: What’s your favorite fossil?

KB: I guess I’d still have to go with Hesperornis. It’s what started my love of fossils.

TTIS: Anything else you’d like to add?

KB: I’d very much like to see that my ranch continues to be used for paleontology, particularly in teaching. I’d like to be around another fifty years to see what is found, but I don’t think I’ll make it that long.

Thank you, Kenny, for your continued dedication, cooperation, and friendship!

Martin, J. E. 2007. A new species of the durophagous mosasaur Globidens (Squamata: Mosasauridae) from the Late Cretaceous Pierre Shale Group of central South Dakota, USA. Geological Society of America Special Paper. 427:177-198
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