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Reproductions of skeletons will occupy 1,200-square-foot space

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FARMINGTON — Like a lot of children, John Burris was fascinated with dinosaurs during his formative years. But unlike most of his peers, that obsession never left him as he grew older.

Burris went on to earn his doctorate and now serves as a geology professor at San Juan College. While his field of study may not relate directly to the creatures that once roamed the prehistoric Earth and still occupy so much space in the human imagination, it's a close enough match so that he periodically gets to indulge his intense, lifelong interest in them.

That will be especially true in the days ahead when the Sherman Dugan Museum of Geology at the college's School of Energy welcomes a new $89,000 dinosaur exhibition with a special event on Oct. 29. The delight was spread all over Burris' face last week when he discussed the pending arrival of the display, placing it in the context of his childhood passion.

"I'm thrilled," he said. "When I was a kid, I was a dinosaur nut. As an adult, I get to be involved the installation of a new dinosaur exhibit."

The exhibition features reproductions of the skeletons of five specimens spread over four species. They are manufactured by Triebold Paleontology Inc. of Woodland Park, Colorado. Owner Mike Triebold himself is journeying to Farmington on Oct. 28 to oversee the assembling of the exhibition, which will occupy a 1,200-square-foot space in the museum.

The collection includes an Albertosaurus sarcophagus, a relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex; an Agujaceratops, a relative of the Triceratops; male and female examples of the Nyctosaurus gracilis, which were flying dinosaurs; and carnivorous mammal, a Didelphoden, which was a marsupial.

Burris said the Albertosaurus sarcophagus will be displayed in an action pose and is easily the most physically impressive of the specimens.

"It's smaller (than a T-rex) but still at the top of the food chain," he said. "That's going to be the centerpiece (of the display)."

The San Juan College Foundation purchased the reproductions with a donation that came primarily from the Dugan family as another way of honoring the legacy of the late local oilman Sherman Dugan, for whom the museum is named. The Friends of Sherman Dugan group contributed to the project, as well.

Sherman Dugan, who died in 2013, and his father Tom, who died in 2017, were best known for their longtime leadership of the Dugan Production Corporation, as well as their enthusiasm for studying and understanding the natural history of the San Juan Basin, where their business activity was concentrated.

More: Oil and gas pioneer, philanthropist remembered by family members, friends

Sean Dugan, son of Sherman and grandson of Tom, said he inherited that fascination from the two men, and he believes they would be deeply pleased about the donation his family made to the foundation to enable the purchase of the specimens.

"I've been dragged to fossil and mineral shows my whole life," he said, laughing before turning serious and describing how the gift will honor his father and grandfather. "Even though they're gone, we can keep their passions and legacies alive."

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass and Gayle Dean, executive director of the San Juan College Foundation, expressed their gratitude to the Dugan family for the donation.

"I'm elated about the celebration and so grateful to the Dugan family for adding to our collection," Pendergrass said. "It's tremendous."

Dean noted how the Dugans have underwritten the addition of several campus facilities over the years.

"Thanks to the Dugan family, we have Mary's Kitchen, the Sherman Dugan Museum of Geology, the veteran center and now we have the dinosaurs," she said.

Burris said the new display will be extremely impressive.

"I think it's going to give the public a glimpse of what life would have been like 70 million years ago in New Mexico," he said. "It will really open up some eyes. It's a chance to share the amazing fossil resources we have in the San Juan Basin."

Sean Dugan said he is looking forward to seeing how the display is received by the public.

"With great elation and joy, I hope," he said. "I hope every kid in San Juan County gets the chance to see it and get inspired to learn about the great natural history in San Juan County."

More: Meet Mery: Dugan donation makes debut at college museum

Dean said the museum already attracts thousands of school children each year, but she expects the new display to draw even more.

"This is just an addition to what we're already excelling at," she said.

In addition to the five specimens, college officials said Triebold is contributing a "surprise" element to the exhibition, though they declined to offer any specifics.

The exhibition will open at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at the museum, 5301 College Blvd. on the college campus in Farmington. Admission to the family-friendly event is free, and a Halloween costume contest, face painting, games and candy will be offered. Refreshments will be provided by Lescomes Family Vineyards. Call 505-566-3522.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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