Now, More Than Ever

It’s always humbling when we stop and reflect on the amazing people who have made a lasting impact on our beloved museum. Some of those people were there from the start, when SPARK was just a big building, a fantastic collection, and a dream we wanted to bring to life.

People like Bob Foote.

Robert “Bob” Foote (December 4, 1914 – March 5, 2005) was an esteemed board member, accomplished attorney, and life-long radio enthusiast. “Bob loved electronics, ice cream, law, and the (SPARK) Museum,” said Nicholas Kaiser, Bob’s son-in-law.

SPARK supporter, Robert “Bob” Foote

Bob retired to live in Bellingham in 2002, and quickly became a Museum supporter. In an interview in 2004, Bob articulated his vision of what he wanted our museum to be: “The (SPARK) Museum should be the best museum of its type in the country. I’ve seen great museums, but they don’t have what we envision this to be. They don’t have the interactive exhibits we intend to develop.”

Bob passed away in 2005 at the age of 92. “Bob’s foresight and financial support has gone a long way in securing the Museum’s future,” said co-founder, Jonathan Winter. “We believe Bob would be pleased with what we’ve accomplished, and the direction we’re going.”

Another of those amazing people was Joe Yaver (May 14, 1933 – November 29, 2016), a founding board member, visionary, humanitarian, and true force of nature.

Joe’s many accomplishments include 24 years as executive director of SPIE, the International Society for Optics & Photonics, a successful not-for-profit professional society for optics and photonics technology headquartered in Bellingham. Joe was instrumental in bringing SPIE to our community (1977), and creating a bond that continues between our two organizations to this day.

Joe was seminal in getting SPARK our non-profit status, and setting in motion the chain of events that turned two private collections into the community treasure it is today. “Joe always felt that the Museum was a very important educational tool for the community,” says Winter. “That’s what drove him.”

Everyone who supports our Museum owes Joe Yaver a debt of gratitude. His soft-spoken, ball-of-fire personality inspires and motivates us all.

Dr. Arlan “Arlie” Norman with a plasma ball

And, of course, we have Dr. Arlan Norman (March 26, 1940 – July 31, 2021), also known as Dean Norman, or Professor Norman, or our favorite: Arlie Norman. No matter what name we called him, we always got the same warm, intelligent, wonderful person. Arlie first joined our Board of Directors in 2008, becoming Board Chairman in 2014, and holds the distinction of being SPARK’s longest serving board member.

Arlie was a life-long science educator, and retired from his position as founding Dean of the College of Sciences and Technology (now the College of Science and Engineering), at Western Washington University in 2011. He went on to devote his time to family, friends, and guide the SPARK Museum’s board of directors into the future.

“One of the best days of my life was the day Arlie became our Board Chair,” says John Jenkins, President & CEO. “Having someone of Arlan’s stature and experience guiding our Museum was a dream come true. It solidified our relationship, and is something I will always cherish.”

Arlie was a tireless advocate for science education not just in the classroom, but in the community as well. “Arlie wanted SPARK to play an important role in support of science education,” remembers Jenkins. “He saw us not just as a museum, but a vehicle to engage young people in the wonders of science and invention.”

We are still learning to live without our devoted friend and advocate. We find it gratifying and encouraging knowing that every day, we continue to build on Dr. Norman’s legacy.

2022 Summer campers after a week of inventing and problem solving

Today, SPARK brings science to life for thousands of visitors every year, with presentations and displays that are accessible, enlightening and unforgettable. “We think we are the best introduction into the advantages of scientific thinking a kid can get anywhere,” says Jenkins. “We want everyone’s experience at SPARK to be unforgettable.”

“Our job is making science fun, interesting and memorable, says Abby Whatley, Director of Programs. “There’s no reason to have it any other way.”

More, please.

Our visitor feedback is overwhelmingly positive with really only one recurring request: Our community loves SPARK, and wants even more interactive displays, more interpretive material, more workshops, exhibits, demonstrations and special events.

We hear you; and we need your support.

People like Arlie, Joe, and Bob were tremendous help in launching and guiding our beloved Museum, but they’d be the first to remind everyone in our community that it can’t be done alone. It takes a group effort with a sense of ownership to fully support a treasure like the SPARK Museum.

There has never been a better time to support science education in our area. SPARK offers a variety of ways to contribute, by making a donation, by becoming a member, or if you hurry, joining us at our 4th Annual IGNITE the Night Fundraiser, on Saturday, March 18th, held this year at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. This is a terrific opportunity to gather with fellow enthusiasts, and help support the Museum’s mission.

No matter how you choose to contribute, your support helps create outstanding STEM education programs, to thousands of students, at the Museum, and in our community.

“We know where we are going, we know what to do,” says Charlie Bryan, our new Visitor Engagement Manager and newest staff member. “We have this huge, extraordinary collection, these fantastic lightning machines, and a team of true-blue staff & volunteers dying to make it all happen.”

Thank you, and until next time, stay grounded.