Exploring Oklahoma: Museum of Osteology a One-of-A-Kind Treasure

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Exploring Oklahoma: Museum of Osteology a One-of-A-Kind Treasure

Do you have a child so fascinated with a hobby that you fear that it's taking focus from other "more important" priorities? Jay Villemarette would tell you not to worry. In fact, he'd tell you to encourage your child, even if that interest seems a bit eccentric. And as the Director of the new Museum of Osteology, he knows what he's talking about.

From Odd Hobby to Career ..."I found a dog skull in the woods at age seven and I've been collecting bones ever since," says Villemarette. That fascination for osteology, the anatomical study of bones, was encouraged by his father who saw his son's scientific interest in the dog skull. That encouragement and support from his father led Villemarette to a business venture that is 24 years in the making and still growing.

The new 7,000 square foot facility, located in southeast Oklahoma City, houses the hundreds of bone and skeletons that Villemarette has collected from all corners of the world.

With a mission to provide "quality educational opportunities for school groups and the public to explore the form and function of the skeletal system," the museum opened October 1, 2010. Most frequent visitors have included homeschool children groups and a few schools using the museum's collection as part of their science studies.

An Educational Destination...As Joey Williams, Director of Education for the museum, explains, "We wanted the exhibits to be as educational as possible." This is evident from the thought and detail put into the displays.

Upon entering the museum, you immediately sense you are in for a unique and educational experience, just as you would at any of the most famous nationally-recognized natural history museums. The two-story, open-area museum begins with exhibits that start on the right and continue around the space, counter-clockwise. As Williams explains, this is because when people walk into a room, the natural tendency is for people to start exploring from the right.

The first exhibit answers the basic question, "What is a skeleton?" The exhibits then continue with displays on adaptation, locomotion, classification and diversity of the vertebrate kingdom.

"I always wanted to be an educator," says Villemarette. Fortunately, his hobby turned into a career and a way to fulfill his desire to educate. "I have a collector's gene. I have an obsession to have a complete collection. I have an obsession to learn." That obsession evolved into Villemarette's family-run business which is made up of two entities.

Before the Museum Began... Skulls Unlimited is the bone-cleaning business that served as the forerunner to the museum. Josh Villemarette, Jay's son, explains that most of Skulls Unlimited's customers are hunters (who bring specimens in for cleaning and articulation) and colleges (who purchase specimens for educational purposes). While there are people who are in the business of cleaning bones, Jay Villemarette says that their company is the only of its kind to include an educational, museum component. An effective process of cleaning tissue from bone is one that was learned through trial and error, says Jay, whose father worked with him on various methods before settling on the preferred method currently used. The business was even recently featured on the popular Discovery channel television series, Dirty Jobs. Dirty Jobs host, Mike Rowe, participated in cleaning tissue from the bones of one of the museum's prize displays, the 2,400-pound skeleton of a 40-foot long humpback whale that hangs from the ceiling. According to Jay, the specimen is "considered the most complete humpback whale specimen in North America; every single bone is original." The carcass of this whale washed up on a Massachusetts beach and Skulls Unlimited was contacted to help with its removal. This is typical of how Villamarette comes to possess much of his collection. The lesson from the museum and its founder?, Encourage your child's hobbies and explore their interests with them. A career just may be in their future.