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Docent fit, fancy among fossils

Sometimes one is so well suited to their work that watching them in action is to witness grace personified. Joe DiMaggio, it’s been said, was like this; Meryl Streep, same. Although not on the world stage, witnessing Carol Jorden at work is similarly mesmerizing.

As she led a small group of Cub Scouts and schoolchildren last week through a presentation about various ancient creatures such as anomalocaris (a genus of anomalocaridid, a family of animals thought to be closely related to ancestral arthropods) and dunkleosteus (a genus of arthrodire placoderm fish that existed during the late Devonian period), Ms. Jorden’s unique ability to reach young children was apparent.

Her kindly, animated style kept the children—a notoriously fickle audience—in rapt attention throughout the 25-minute presentation. It’s not an easy feat by any measure, as most parents of young children would attest.

“I can’t walk in the Alf without seeing something new,” Ms. Jorden said. “I am just so excited about paleontology.”

It was her lifelong fascination with science that led Ms. Jorden to the Alf in 1986. A newly-hired third grade teacher in Rancho Cucamonga’s Central School District, Ms. Jorden was “looking around for some interesting things to go see” and discovered the museum. “And I just fell in love with the place,” she said.

A single mom with a young son at the time, Ms. Jorden soon found herself drawn to the fledgling museum’s combination of small-town charm and serious scientific bona fides. “And I’ve been here ever since,” she added.

Ms. Jorden’s passion rubbed off on her third graders, with several of her charges becoming junior paleontologists through the Alf’s after school program. “A number of them have moved on to science,” she said of her students. “So, that was really cool.”

Watching Ms. Jorden interact with the children in her group, it’s clear how 30 years in the classroom helped to hone her skills as a communicator. She is engaging and kind while remaining firm and authoritative. While she admits she’s working off a loose script, she seems natural, and somehow remains charming and spontaneous. At one point she gathered the group of nine into a circle near a tyrannosaurus rex skull and had them lean in close. “He could eat all of you in one bite!”

And Ms. Jorden’s excitement wasn’t reserved for exclusively for the children. Speaking of the Alf, she recounted a long list of changes and accomplishments the museum has seen over the years.

“There have been a number of very unique scientific discoveries,” she said. “There’s the hadrosaur skeleton with the skin impressions, again, found by high school students. We just discovered baby Joe, a few years ago,” Ms. Jorden continued, making reference to the 75 million year-old parasaurolophus found recently by Alf paleontologists while on a dig in southern Utah.

“The amphycion footprints—commonly called ‘bear dog’—he’s downstairs. We have the only known footprints of a giant bear dog.”

As she continued to list the museum’s triumphs and prizes, it was evident that Ms. Jorden’s knowledge of and pride for what the Alf has become are invaluable. “She is very protective and very proud of the museum,” said Ms. Sanders. “I am incredibly grateful. We can’t run this place without [docents]. Their importance is immeasurable.”

Asked what she’s most proud of after all these years, Ms. Jorden’s response was typically earnest.

“I guess I am most proud of the fact that … not only am I a lifelong learner, I am encouraging and enthusing children,” she said. “You will hear children at my talks that say, ‘Oh, I was here last week, when you did this!’ To a teacher, there’s nothing better.”

And while another group of children began assembling outside in the museum, Ms. Jorden eyed the clock and said she had better get back to the job she has loved for 30 years.

Ms. Jorden leads tours on Family Science Discovery Day the second Saturday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m., November through May. Her next tour is April 9. The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology is located at 1175 W. Base Line Rd., Claremont. Information is available at alfmuseum.org or by calling (909) 624-2798.

—Mick Rhodes

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