Monday, July 31, 2017

From Park to Pier: The Early Days of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Part 1 of 4

This year, in honor of our 35th anniversary, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is asking our supporters to match a generous $10,000 bequest from Mirriel Bedell, the mother of co-founder Judy D’Amore, to underwrite our commitment to place-based, people-powered, hands-on learning. Donate today to help us reach our goal and fulfill our mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea!

(This is the first of a four-part series about how Judy D’Amore and Libby Palmer founded the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Read Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.)

It was a chance meeting in a Port Townsend coffee shop in the early 80s. Fueled by a mutual enjoyment of live music, Libby Palmer struck up a conversation with Frank D’Amore that soon became an invitation for her to meet Frank’s wife, Judy, who he said was equally passionate about singing.

Libby and Judy’s subsequent meeting marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and the backdrop against which the Port Townsend Marine Science Center would later be founded.

“It didn’t take long for us to discover that we were both interested in science, “Libby remembers. “She had two kids, I had three dogs, and in terms of going to the beach together and spending time outdoors, it was a perfect match.”
Judy D'Amore (l) and Libby Palmer (r)
teaching their first class.

Judy, a native of Iowa, worked as an Audubon naturalist in Ohio before following her brother to the Pacific Northwest. Originally from the east coast, Libby had a teaching background in mathematics.

The earliest iteration of what has now become the thriving Port Townsend Marine Science Center was a 1981 summer class for children.

“We ended up exploring the beaches, exploring ponds, and taking the kids to the places we wanted to take them,” remembers Judy. “We had about 15 kids from kindergarten through the 4th grade."

“Four days a week, we used a small building in Chetzemoka Park for our classes,” says Libby. “But we had to take it all down on Fridays, because someone was usually having a wedding on the weekends!”

“We collected animals down on the beach, and each of us had a microscope,” explains Judy. “We acquired tanks and pumps but most of our tanks were fresh water at that point because we knew that maintaining the proper temperature would be an issue in salt water tanks.”

The classes were an instant success.

“Summer was the perfect time to hold these classes, because the tides are out more often during the daylight hours, which is not the case the rest of the year,” says Judy.

Inspired by their success, Libby and Judy wondered how they might take their efforts to the next level. They began visiting year-round centers like the Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles to familiarize themselves with the operations of a more established institution. Their curiosity was peaked when they learned that it received funding from the state.

The Poulsbo Marine Science Center was also of interest to them. It was there that one of the educators encouraged each woman to apply for a $500 scholarship for marine biology projects that was being offered by the Marine Science Society of the Pacific Northwest, a local non-profit founded by former Washington Gov. Dixie Lee Ray.

“We took the applications and decided that $1000 in grants would cover the plumbing for a Sears pump,” explains Libby.  “Even though we did not yet have a building!”

As it turned out, they each received a $500 grant. Now the challenge was to find a permanent location to house their new equipment.

Judy adds, “We had been looking around Port Townsend, and we kept eyeing that building out on the pier at Fort Worden.”

As perfect a location as they knew it would be, convincing others of that fact would take determination, patience and diplomacy. Lots of diplomacy.

(To be continued...)


  1. The Marine Science Center is one of Port Townsends treasures. I am very excited that this summer my little granddaughters, who are here visiting from Mexico, are just old enough to join the Young Explorers camp. I love reading the story of how Libby and Judy got it all started and can't wait for the next installment. Thanks to them and all of the wonderful workers and volunteers who keep it going.

    1. Yes, next installment please. I'm holding my breath and running out of oxygen. Hurry! David noble

  2. This is such a wonderful, and continuing, story! Libby and Judy are amazing women - it must be such a pleasure to see how their early vision has developed. And that photo is a real treasure.

  3. When Judy and Frank d'Amore moved to Port Townsend with their 2 children, Lara and Gabe, in about 1978, they enrolled Lara in the Port Townsend Coop Preschool, where I was teaching. Soon the classroom had an aquarium filled with mud, water, plants and creatures from the golf course pond. This was an exciting focus for all of us, as the underwater world became part of our daily lives, and Judy and Frank taught us about the aquarium's inhabitants. For me, this was the true beginning of the PTMSC!
    Peggy Albers
    That's Lara (Simone) in the photo with Libby and Judy.


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