The Journal News: Pace University’s naturalist museum gets $90G face-lift |

Pace University’s environmental center is featured in an article with photos in The Journal News in print and online.

Pace University’s environmental center is featured in an article with photos in The Journal News in print and online.

Assistant Director James Eyring, Director Angelo Spillo and student Alex Lengers were interviewed for the article.

From The Journal News:

PLEASANTVILLE — On a recent morning, James Eyring, an assistant director at the Pace University Environmental Center, took one of his museum exhibits out for a quick snack.

He plucked a dandelion from the yard outside the 1760s Dutch Colonial farmhouse — which houses the center as well as the newly renovated Marty McGuire Museum — and offered it to Angus, a Mali Uromastyx — or spiny-tailed — lizard.

It was gobbled up in a millisecond.

“That was really fresh, wasn’t it?,”he said.

A self-taught naturalist, Eyring, who’s worked at the center for 30 years, says he thinks of himself as a salesman.

The product he’s trying to sell? Planet Earth.

“The only way people are going to want to save it is by being educated about it,” said Eyring. “It’s all about developing an appreciation for nature.”

To that end, a new $90,000 museum, made possible with a grant from Pleasantville resident Dr. Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, was inaugurated in April to house some of the center’s longtime residents.

Among them are two Burmese pythons, Monaand Thud, two Chinese water dragon lizards, Yin and Yang, three corn snakes, a chinchilla and a black-tailed prairie dog named Chester.

Until April, the animals were kept in small terrariums hand built years ago by Eyring, and Angelo Spillo, the center’s director.

Now the new wood and glass showcases attempt to mimic their natural habitats, with replicas of jungles, deserts, waterfalls and mountainous terrain .

“We always dreamed of building something we could be proud of,” said Spillo. “We wanted something professional.”

The museum was named in honor of Martin “Marty” McGuire, a 2006 Pace alumnus who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and died in a car accident in 2007.

“Marty was a great student. He lived and breathed what we were teaching,” said Spillo. “He was so knowledgeable about all kinds of animals, but especially birds.”

Eyring said McGuire was the kind of student who could lead a “paradigm shift.”

“We could see him getting another generation involved in the environment,”said Eyring.

It seems fitting that the center’s museum is named for a student. After all, the center came into being through student activism.

Back in 1971, just eight years after Pace opened its Pleasantville campus, a dilapidated 1760s farmhouse that was once part of the Choate estate was going to be demolished to make way for a parking lot.

“A group of students got together and said they would help renovate it,” said Spillo, “The university agreed and gave them money for the materials.”

The farmhouse, originally a groundskeeper’s home, was part of a large estate that had belonged to the famous 19th century physician Dr. George C. S. Choate, a Harvard Medical School graduate and an “alienist,” or a doctor who specialized in mental disorders.

When Choate bought the property in Pleasantville, he dedicated one wing of his house to a private sanitarium. One of his more famous patients, Chappaqua resident Horace Greeley, the editor of New York Tribune, died in the sanitarium in 1872.

The wing, which was later moved to another location on the estate, is now known as Marks Hall.

While the center is now under the Dyson College of Arts and Science, it also receives grants from private doners.

One of them is a Waletzky, a fourth generation Rockefeller who is the daughter of Laurance and niece of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Some six years ago, Waletzky watched Eyring do a raptor demonstration and asked to meet his boss.

She then proceeded to write “a very generous” check to the center, said Eyring.

“I was so impressed by the educational skills and dedication of James and Angelo that I wanted to do something , and I felt the animals needed a place that was better for them,” said Waletzky, who chairs the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Waletzky said Ralph O’Dell, a retired director of Natural Resource Protection with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and a mentor to McGuire, was keen on creating a legacy for his protege.

“Marty was an inspiring naturalist and human being,” she said.

For the more than 2,500 students who tour and participate in the center’s activities every year, the face-lift and restoration will mean better access to understanding the environment.

“We have had a 20 year-relationship with the center,” said Douglas Berry, principal of the Springhurst Elementary School in Dobbs Ferry. “Our students have participated in hands-on workshops, visited the farm and taken advantage of the alternative learning environment. They have been an invaluable resource to us.”

Pace University’s naturalist museum gets $90G face-lift | The Journal News |

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