Alumnus has role in unearthing dinosaur skeleton
Those working in fossil excavation are gifted with natural patience; they know that the process of unearthing nature’s treasures takes time and painstaking care. But when a major find is revealed, all that work becomes worth it.
Such is the testimony of Garrett Williamson, a 2014 graduate of Wayland’s School of Math and Sciences. Garrett found a love for geology while at Wayland and studied under then-professor Dr. David Schmidt, who often took students to areas around the country for excavation projects and other field research with fellow professor Dr. Tim Walsh.
Even after his graduation from Wayland, Garrett was invited to join Schmidt, who is now on the faculty at Westminster College in Missouri, on subsequent summer trips. Most of those projects have been in Nebraska and in South Dakota and he has enjoyed the continued partnership.
So the summer of 2020 was shaping up like many before it as the group descended onto the Dakota Prairie in the northern region of South Dakota.
“In 2019, we had the opportunity to survey an area where a member of the Grand River Co-op, Jim Uhrig, reported fossil remains, and we eventually found the location. It was really close to the boundary lines and they had to do a survey to make sure it was on federal land,” said Garrett. “Once they found out it was good to go, we went back in 2020 to dig some more. It’s really been a joint effort between Wayland and Westminster.”
Then a few months into the COVID pandemic, Schmidt’s class trip to the area was canceled, but he planned to come himself. Garrett wanted to go too, ready at that point “just to get out.” So he headed north to join Schmidt on the dig. They returned to the same place where they had located some vertebrae and a larger round piece that looked broken.
“We knew there were bones there but had no idea what we were in for. We think that it died there but maybe a storm disarticulated the bones. They were not all nice and in a row but still relatively close together. The bone bed is about 20 feet long right now but there are more we keep finding as we dug back. We had to leave things out there since we ran out of time,” Garrett recalled. “We did recover quite a few vertebrae, ribs, the skull and one half of the jaw.”
After a month, Schmidt took a break to return home, and Garrett opted to stay, doing some hiking and prospecting in the area while checking in on the dig site. When the group returned, they jumped back into the project.
Making the discovery
“It took a while… we started on collecting downslope, then you start picking in to see if there is anything around the bones that is exposed. The first thing I found was a part of the frill, but we thought it was a piece of the pelvis at first. Eventually, one of the students began working on the round piece we thought was a limb bone, thinking it was a piece of the femur near the pelvis. Then it started getting bigger and we thought it looked like a skull,” he said, noting with a laugh that Schmidt was pessimistic.
As Garrett kept working, he discovered more ribs and another student found teeth, soon realizing they were attached. They had found the maxilla, the upper part of the mouth.
“Then we came to the realization that this was a skull; we had something BIG here. When we found those teeth it was a big day. David came to tears and we were all so excited. We found some really cool things in Nebraska with the mammals but nothing like this,” he said.
Garrett noted that from the tip of the frill to the front of the snout is about seven feet long and about five feet wide. Because of its size, the group is ensured of a pretty significant find.
“It’s either one of the largest triceratops ever found or it’s a torosaurus, which could get very big. Usually they are not found that far south, though,” Garrett said. “We didn’t focus on the skull the whole time but were working all over the bone bed and excavating the ribs that were around there and the vertebrae. We finally got the skull out the last day we were there.”
Under the terms of their permit to dig, the unearthed bones eventually must be turned over to a museum. But for now, Garrett, Schmidt and the group are working on cleaning and working on the bones to get them ready for displaying. The majority are in Westminster’s labs, while Garrett has a few pieces he kept to work on in the Wayland labs.
The group named the dinosaur Shady after the nearby community with which they became quite familiar, Shade Hill.
Garrett is in his second year of the doctoral program at Texas Tech, with a future goal of becoming a college professor. He took a fall teaching post at West Texas A&M and is working on his dissertation research while juggling that and a consultancy with a small oil and gas company in Oklahoma he has worked with since he finished his master’s degree at Stephen F. Austin State University in 2016.
His dissertation involves study of the rock records for the Espanola Basin region
of New Mexico, located north of Santa Fe. The research deals with channel switching
of streams and what may cause the phenomenon.
While a WBU student, Garrett participated in the undergraduate research that sets the school apart and provides unique experiences for students as they move ahead.
“I felt like I was way ahead of the game by doing the research at Wayland,” he said. “I was very well prepared when I went to grad school because I had done that thesis under Dr. Walsh.”
Garrett said his love with teaching while in graduate school and was able to help on particular student turn around his academic experience. While he was not the only student Garrett mentored, the highly fulfilling exchange awakened a new desire for the classroom. After working for a few years in Oklahoma, he felt it was time to return to school. He shares an office with fellow WBU graduate Hunter Green, who is also pursuing the doctorate in geology.
The next steps
Garrett plans to join Schmidt and more students this summer to continue digging in the same area. The excavators are hopeful they will be able to remove even more uncovered bones from the region, including some new vertebrae and a shoulder blade.
“We expect this to be a multi-year project but it depends on how many bones we find. The more we dig back, the steeper it’s getting. From the bone bed to the top is about 10 feet high, so we’re going to have to dig back through all that overburden to get to where the bones are,” Garrett explained.
“We know this is part of the cretaceous period, that last period before dinosaurs went extinct, with dinosaurs like the T-Rex, the duck-billed hadrosaurs and triceratops.”
Hawaii alumnus leads worldwide intelligence contractor
Though his Wayland education is far in the rear-view mirror, Randy Johnson still holds his experience near to his heart. He also says it was instrumental in helping him become the successful leader he is today with FGS LLC, based in Maryland.
“Wayland enabled me to be where I am as the president and CEO of a company that makes in excess of $100 million a year. We support people all over the world, the people I used to be in the military,” says Randy. “Wayland gave me an opportunity to finish my degree, and it was an honor to go to that school.”
Born in Oklahoma and raised in Florida, Randy was about to enter his first year at community college when he received his draft lottery number with the number seven.
“It was 1972, and I thought I was in the last group of the draft. As soon as I found out, I went down and joined the Air Force on the delayed enlistment program. I worked all summer and paid for a year of community college at Miami-Dade Community college. The Air Force delayed enlistment program allowed me finish the first year of college and then went into the service.” He had no regrets about his decision to join the service when the President ended the draft during his delayed enlistment year.
Randy started out in intelligence with the Air Force, then ended up making a lifetime of the career field. Spending time first in Korea, he eventually found himself stationed in the island states of Hawaii. He and a few airmen friends thought they’d try their hand at one of the local state schools but quickly realized it would be too long of a process to complete their degrees. Then they found Wayland on the air base and checked it out.
Back to the books
“Wayland had such a good program, we all started with our first term with a guy named Dr. Askew, who taught Old Testament. Dr. Askew was one of the first missionaries to arrive in Hiroshima after the Japanese surrendered in WW II,” he recalled. “His stories were fantastic, and we couldn’t wait to get there. He was a walking advertisement for Wayland.”
By 1990, Randy and his friends – all single fathers at the time – had their Wayland degrees in hand. He chose business administration, opting to learn additional skills that would one day serve him well in business.
He retired from the Air Force after nearly 21 years of service and continued in the intelligence field in as a government employee and a contractor alternately. Eventually he spent several years with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, completing his master’s degree through Troy University while stationed in Japan with the agency. He retired eventually from that role as a senior executive, leaving to spend more time with family and help with a son who had respiratory problems. He took on a consultant’s role with FGS LLC.
Just about the time he had decided he was ready to go back to the NGIA and quit consulting, FGS’ owner approached him with an offer to take over the company.
“I took over the company in 2012, and we were $7 million in the hole,” Randy recalls. “I asked the owner to trust me, and I promised him full transparency. We struggled for a few years before we could put the profits into the bank, but now we are doing well.
“We have nearly 400 employees and we’re growing. About 30 of those people are overhead – including security, HR, finance and contracts – and the rest are scattered around the world supporting the Department of Defense to include United States Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy United States Central Command just to name a few” he says. “FGS LLC has 95 employees in Qatar working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year doing things to keep you and I safe. We also have folks throughout the Pacific – Okinawa, Korea and Hawaii – as well as Langley Air Force Base in San Antonio, and in Yuma.”
Randy says the majority of FGS’ work is classified government intelligence work, and they also maintain some contracts for the Transportation Safety Administration. Another arm of the business assembles large video screens – he compared them to those at Dallas Cowboys stadium – for the intelligence community from their hub in Maryland.
The baseline for success
But he is quick to add with trademark humility that there is only one reason he is there: his WBU degree.
“I’m serious when I say ‘thank you’ to Wayland. It really made a difference in my life,” he says, noting that the jobs he has held have enabled he and wife Lorella to send all four of their children to college. “That degree was the baseline for me to start everything, and it was easy for me to keep my education going. I have had a great life, and I work around some great people.”
A man of strong faith, Randy truly appreciates the biblical worldview that Wayland provided to him and still makes the cornerstone of its educational programs. He prides himself in taking care of his employees not only on the job but with support if personal or family issues arise.
“Wayland offers a special deal, and having a faith-based school on a military base is a good thing. Having the requirement to take at least two religion courses is a better thing. At the end of the day, whether you are a believer or not, that little thing called the Golden Rule comes out. And this world needs more of that to treat people right,” he says.
While Randy used to spend many hours in travel visiting the various locations of FGS employees – he covered 100,000 miles each year pre-pandemic – today he keeps in touch with them from his home office in Virginia. He’s got his eye on retirement in the near future and hopes to serve on boards and be active in community service once his workload lightens.
He also plans to continue being an outspoken advocate for his alma mater.
“Over time, I felt it really important to give back. The first place that I chose was Wayland. One of the highlights of my life was being able to visit the home campus in 2016 and take a tour,” he says. “I can tell you that you will always have an ambassador for Wayland in Randy Johnson.”
Devotional: Christian life is impossible without God
And where you go I know, and the way you know. Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?" John 14:4-5
Here's what we know, if we will be honest with ourselves and move away the cloud of many of the things we were taught in our religious upbringing that was based on our performance. We know that it is impossible to live up to God's standards... it is impossible for us to do right all the time... it is impossible for us to live the biblical Christian life.
When we get honest with ourselves about this, then we are ready to give it over to the only One who can do for us and through us what needs to be done. Jesus is the only One who can meet God's standards. He is the only One that can do right all the time. He is the only One who can live the biblical Christian life, and he desires to do that through all of us.
But we will never get to the point of surrender as long as we choose to stay tied to religion and madmade "truth" about what it means to know the Lord and live for the Lord.
Thomas was having some trouble with what Jesus was trying to share with them. I see Thomas as the hyperintellectual one. He wasn't all that emotional, as it seems, he went right past the Lord trying to give them comfort for what they were going to go through and the assurance of eternity. Thomas tried to figure it out; he needed to have all the facts so he could make an informed decision as to whether he was going to accept what the Lord was saying. He did this later with the other apostles when they told him they had seen the Lord.He questions the Lord as if he had no information, "we don't know where you are going; how can we know the way?"
Well if he would have been listening instead of overanalyzing, he would have heard Jesus tell him where he was going. And I am certain tht in the three years he had spent sitting at Jesus' feet he heard about the way to heaven.
It happens to us also. We have all the information we need. If we read the Word we know what is required of us. Yet we have lt others tell us their truth rather than the biblical truth. We have let others lead us in their man-made performance-based religion and we have convinced ourselves that we can do it. But when we listen to the voice of the Lord, we come to the realization of what is truth, and we see our total dependence on HIm in order.
Tony (Lawrence) Pierce earned his degree in 1983 and has served as pastor of First Baptist Church Fountain Hills in Arizona for 14 years of his 31 years in ministry. He and wife Teresa, a 1981 graduate, live in Mesa. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. This devotional is an excerpt from Tony's devotional book "The Life That's Impossible to Live." available through the church by calling (480) 837.3374 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the History Files
This month's history recap continues a series about some of the historic buildings on the main campus in Plainview, where Wayland was founded in 1908.
While football slowly passed by the wayside, Wayland began to see the rise in a sport of another kind: basketball. In 1929, the Nunn Gymnasium was built, thanks to the generosity of Dr. J. E. Nunn, who had supported Wayland for years, and his son, J. Lindsey Nunn.
The new building replaced a tiny court in the basement of the administration building that, according to the Plainview paper, was "entirely inadequate for both players and spectators." The first game played in the gym was against the Littlefield Athletics. Wayland won 50-33. The team also played Texas Tech, Montezuma (New Mexico's Baptist college in Las Vegas), Sul Ross, Panhandle A&M and several high school teams.
The gymnasium was officially dedicated in February 1930 during the Panhandle Pastors' and Laymen's Conference. The gymnasium could hold around 600 spectators. But it was a tight squeeze.
When the university added Hutcherson Center in the 1970s, the small "cracker box" Nunn Gym was converted into the home of the School of Business.