Thursday, June 4, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 14

Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on May 8th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 10

Spotlight on: Natural History Museum

Virginia Perry Souza, Mike Lehane


Piece of history
The Natural History Museum’s building is one of the oldest homes still standing in Santa Maria, according to board President Mike Lehane.

Virginia Perry Souza and her mother first opened the Natural History Museum in Santa Maria as a tribute to Souza’s late father, who was fascinated by the Central Coast’s nature and wildlife and passed that appreciation on to his daughter. Despite her genuine enjoyment of wildlife, Souza said she’d had no intention of acting on this interest until she developed the idea for the museum.

“The idea was just ready to be born,” Souza said. “I don’t know how the idea first started germinating, but it did.”

The museum began in 1996 as a traveling exhibit kit that a naturalist would take to schools in Santa Maria to teach students about birds from the area. Three years later, the museum found a permanent location at 412 McClelland St., near the library and City Hall.

Over time, the museum has accumulated pieces for its exhibits of animals and plants from different Central Coast habitats, such as shorebirds that live on beaches and furry critters that dwell in forests. Many of the taxidermied animals have been donated, but some are the result of a museum volunteer or board member finding animals killed along roads and highways near Santa Maria. That’s how the museum obtained its mountain lion, which was found near Highway 166.

However, after years of accumulating items and adding to the museum, Souza, and Mike Lehane, president of the museum’s board of directors, want to get back to the museum’s roots and focus on educating students.

Lehane, who became president of the board of directors in February, said the idea is to create an educational outreach program where museum volunteers travel to schools with kits of items related to what students are learning, to supplement their education.

“I think it’s important for anybody to learn about the world they live in because it makes them more aware of how the natural world works,” Lehane said. “And once they know that, they are able to join in the stewardship of their environment.”

Souza, who stepped away from the museum about five years ago to focus on other endeavors, rejoined the board of directors earlier this year to help move this educational effort forward. She said that throughout this year, museum directors and volunteers will begin laying the foundation for the program by working with educators to identify items needed, and they’ll then write grants to obtain those items.

Souza said she hopes the program starts next year, with the goal of sparking students’ interest and making them think about the world around them.

“We want to pass on the concept that we are all linked—everything from the smallest thing to the biggest,” Souza said.

In addition to the education program, Lehane said he is thinking about other ways the museum can grow its offerings, such as starting summer camps where students visit the museum once a week for two or three hours. He said he has also started dreaming up the possibility of expanding the museum’s physical space.

“We have people wanting to donate things all the time, and we just don’t have room to put them out,” Lehane said. “Our storage room is filled with things the public would like to see and we would like them to see.”

• The city of Santa Maria plans to hire Thomas Watson as its new city attorney, after its former attorney of 14 years, Gilbert Trujillo, retired in December 2018. The City Council is set to approve Watson’s hiring at its May 7 meeting.

Staff Writer Zac Ezzone wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, mail, or email at

Weekly Poll
What do you think about Aera Energy canceling its project in Cat Canyon?

It's a victory for the environment!
It's a loss of a lot of potential jobs that are needed in North County.
I'm all for renewable energy, but we still need oil and gas.
The county should never approve another oil and gas project.

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