Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ira and Edith Gillet: Horner Museum supporters

As I was reading through local newspapers in preparation for the Circa 1920 exhibition, a story “Gillets En Route to Africa” from the Daily Gazette Times of September 4, 1918 caught my eye.  As donors to the Horner collection often have interesting personal stories, I was eager to read more about the Gillets.
Ira Gillet, born in Ohio in 1889, transferred to Oregon State University when his parents moved to Tangent in 1911.  At OSU, he was president of the Cosmopolitan Club and organized a campus branch of the YMCA and the first student volunteer missionary board. He then attended Oberlin’s School of Theology. After graduation and ordination, he married Edith Riggs, the daughter and granddaughter of missionaries to Turkey. Missionary work could be dangerous.  Edith's grandfather, Elias Riggs, a linguist who translated the Bible into Turkish, was killed by a band of “brigands” who thought he possessed “booty.” They found he carried only a Bible. 

Even recognizing the dangers, Ira and Edith Gillet became missionaries and sailed from Seattle to Inhambane, a city on the southeast coast of Africa.  From there they traveled 30 miles inland to the Kambini Missionary School. The country at that time was controlled by Portugal (and known as Portuguese East Africa) which did not provide much education to native Africans. The Kambini school offered primary education and vocational training in several fields.  Ira brought information on agricultural practices from OSU and taught carpentry skills; Edith taught kindergarten.
Ira and Edith Gillet
Methodist Sunday schools in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho contributions bought the Gillets a truck which was equipped with over-sized tires and built-in bunks and cupboards which would allow them to travel to distant communities. Here's what the Gillets said about the truck in their newsletter:

“It is too bad to cover up any of that bright red enamel with any other paint.  Especially so when one remembers the taste of the folks who will run down the path to watch for the coming of their truck through the African bush.  But the top, at least, must have a coat of aluminum—just one more attempt to keep the inside as cool as possible.   And then one of the panels must also have a coat of aluminum to serve as the screen at night when pictures of the life of Christ are shown to groups large and small as they sit on the sand beneath the coconut and cashew trees, delighted, amazed, and deeply impressed.

"There is another panel on the other side, and that must have a coat of blackboard paint.  After all, this is a Movable School; and what is school without a blackboard on which to write songs, recipes, and sketches of the work in hand?”

After 41 years, the Gillets retired from missionary work and returned to Oregon in 1959.  On their departure the community at Kambini presented Ira Gillet with this walking stick, inscribed with his name.  The stick also has a detachable metal blade so that it could be used in place of a native firewood hatchet.

In addition, one of the women presented the Gillets with the leopard skin shown in the photograph above.  The Gillets passed on her message in one of their newsletters:

“Take this to America with you and show it wherever you go.  This is our greeting to all of your friends.  Tell them for us that we think this is a beautiful skin.  It is neither white entirely nor black entirely:  it is both black and white.  That is why it is so pretty.  So it is with God’s great human family.  We are not all white, and not all of us are black.  But if the black folks and the white folks will help each other and live together in harmony, then God’s family will be beautiful.”

This post started out with a newspaper article about the Gillets' departure for Mozambique. The country is again the subject of a newspaper story as a devastating cyclone has ravaged the area. The next post will have more on the Gillets in Mozambique and their contributions to the Horner Collection. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Coral Specimen in Museum Collection

The Horner Museum's natural history specimens, including rocks such as those described in the last post, come in all sizes.  One which I encountered recently was a geode the size of a basketball!  Many, however, are quite small which makes them difficult to exhibit.  For that reason, we decided against displaying this item from Samoa in the Around the World exhibit of 2017.
Stylaster sanguineus Coelenterates coral from Samoa
The Pacific nation of Samoa consists of the islands of Upolu and Savai'i plus a few neighboring small islands. The islands are nearly surrounded by coral reefs.  The reefs consist of colonies of individual coral polyps -sacs with an opening surrounded by tentacles-- living within an external skeleton of (usually) calcite. New polyps begin atop the skeletons of dead coral and secrete limestone, building up the cup that surrounds them and adding to the reef.  Zooxanthellae (a type of algae) lives within them and provide food and bi-products which increase limestone production.  Because the Zooxanthellae need sunlight for photosynthesis, most reefs are in water less than 25 meters (82 feet) deep.
The reefs around Samoa contain over 50 varieties of coral.  I assumed this was one. But when I started researching Stylaster elegans ver. (now known as Stylaster sanguineus) the scientific name the donor supplied for this specimen, I discovered that although commonly called “lace coral”, the stylasters are of a class of animals called  Hydrozoa, not a true coral (which belong to the class Anthrazoa). Although the outside may look like a coral, the much smaller polyps are arranged in parallel rows with specialized functions.  One group uses its hair-like tentacles which sting a threatening predator and an adjoining feeding polyp which collects and digests plankton from the ocean . They can operate in this cooperative fashion because the calcite structures in which they live are connected by tiny channels. They do not have internal Zooxanthellae and so do not need to be where light can penetrate. Nearly all are found in water at least 165 feet deep and commonly at depths of 600 to 1,000 feet.
Like the coral reefs on which they live, the stylasters are affected by changing water temperature and salinity and pollutants released into the oceans by human activity. The coral reefs around Samoa have also suffered from the physical effects of hurricanes and a 1978 population explosion of crown of thorns starfish, a predator which destroyed about two-thirds of Samoa's reefs. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Horner Museum Rocks

Many people remember the Horner Museum's display of fluorescent rocks.  These rocks are currently on display in the Benton County Museum in Philomath and will probably be moved to the new museum in downtown Corvallis.  Recently, Exhibitions Curator Mark Tolonen asked me to check a list of other rocks to see if they fluoresced. All the Horner Museum's rocks are still packed as there were for the move -- wrapped in tissue paper in boxes with many other rocks.  So finding any one item is a tedious process of unwrapping, checking the identification number and re-wrapping.  In addition to the ones Mark asked me to find, I discovered some other specimens which I found visually interesting.

One was a slice of silicified bone.
Silicified bone
You've probably heard of petrified wood.  A similar process produced this sample.  A bone became buried in the sediments from a flood or river or under volcanic ash.  Ground water containing silica entered the bone, broke down the cell walls and left silica in the empty space. Time and pressure turned the silica to stone.

I also liked the patterns in these two samples of wardite from Utah.
 Chemically wardite is hydrous sodium aluminum phosphate hydroxide. Named for scientist Henry Augustus Ward, it is famous for its unusual crystal structure.  It is often found mixed with two other phosphate minerals, variscite and crandallite.  The former greenish in color, ranging from yellow-green to blue-green, while the latter creates white veins. Apparently, these minerals often combine to create these patterns that remind me of images of the brain!

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon