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Prehistoric party: Lemont man makes fossils fun with hands-on presentations

Published: Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 8:05 a.m. CDT
(Dan Farnham – dfarnham@shawmedia.com)
David Howe of Lemont, owner of T-Rexplorers, studies a bone fragment he found in a piece of rock in Lockport.

LEMONT – Unhappy with his career in finance, Lemont resident David Howe has found his calling in the world of dinosaur fossils.

Howe started T-Rexplorers four years ago. The business provides hands-on dinosaur fossil presentations, mostly for children.

Howe has presented at schools, libraries, park districts, transitional facilities and facilities for learning disabled adults.

He also held a summer camp that recreated a dinosaur dig and allowed participants to make casts of bones and tracks.

Howe said he has always had a love for nature, the earth sciences and digging for things.

“There are people who are meant to have clean hands and there are people who are meant to have dirty hands,” he said.

His daughter Zoe, who has an interest in dinosaurs inspired him to pursue this career, Howe said.

After the career change, he went back to school at DePaul University and has relied on the expertise of paleontologists when trying to identify fossils.

Howe has a collection of about 300 dinosaur fossils, including bones, teeth, eggs, tracks and even feces.

He found some of the items himself while digging in places such as Arkansas and South Dakota, he said Others were either given to him or purchased from reputable dealers.

When it comes to his presentations, Howe said he goes for an interactive experience that differs from seeing fossils in a museum.

“I don’t want people walking up and putting their hands behind their backs and just looking at things like this,” he said. “I want kids to be able to grab the fossil and say, ‘Check this out. This is awesome. What is this?’”

And, unlike with some museum exhibits, Howe said these fossils are real, not replicas.

That also means Howe must be being prepared for pieces to break.

Though he sets up “dinosaur rules” for handling the fossils, Howe said he does have to do repairs.

“Fossils are 65 million years old,” he said. “They’re going to break.”

But Howe said letting the children hold the fossils brings out their natural curiosity.

“Some of them are absolutely floored that they are holding dinosaur parts,” he said.

Zoe, who is 9 years old and a student at River Valley School, said it’s cool to have a dad who’s known as “the dinosaur guy.”

“Actually, all the boys ask me questions for my dad,” she said.

Howe said his goal with making the presentations is to get children to spend less time with electronic devices and more time appreciating nature, whether it be hunting for fossils or something else.

“You can go anywhere on that little tablet of yours, and you will never find something like this,” he said.

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