A Dinosaur Museum in Escondido May Become Extinct
Since he was a small child growing up near Santa Rosa, Keith Roynon, 81, has been collecting fossils, rocks and minerals and sharing his collection with the public
Barring a last-minute miracle in the form of a committed benefactor, Keith Roynon’s dinosaur museum in Escondido will close for good next month.
“We’re running out of time,” said Jeannie Nutter, director of the Roynon Museum of Earth Science and Paleontology. “We need someone, a company or someone, who could give us $75,000 a year for five years.”
The museum, which has been in its Grand Avenue location across the street from the old Palomar Hospital building for the past four years, is making enough money to pay the rent and the electric bills.
But it’s been operating with only one paid staff member all this time while Roynon, who will turn 82 this summer, has been putting in long hours, six days a week, as an instructor to thousands of schoolchildren and as a docent always there with a greeting smile.
“He needs to retire,” Nutter said. “It’s time. He’s noticing it. We call him the energizer bunny but he’s slowing down.”
She said it would be truly impossible to replace Roynon, but it must be done for his sake. But the money to hire a replacement isn’t there. They’ve tried everything to raise the funds, but are now scheduled to close for good on June 29. They are engaged in negotiations with other museums in hopes that one will agree to acquire the entire collection of fossils, rocks, gems and rare dinosaur eggs.
But hope remains that an influx of major cash might still be coming.
Back in the late 1990s, Roynon retired from his jobs as a surgical equipment salesman and part-time antiques dealer.
“When I turned 60, I decided to hang it up and retire and take life easy,” he said. “Then look what I did. It was like jumping out of the frying pan right into the open fire.”
Since he was a small child growing up near Santa Rosa where he would go up to the nearby hills and collect sharks teeth, Roynon has been collecting fossils and minerals.
“Nobody has had a fuller life than Mr. Roynon,” he said speaking in the third person. “I’ve hiked the Alps. I’ve been all over the western United States digging fossils. My years in the mountains collecting fossils from Montana to Mexico have been very fulfilling. If I died tomorrow, I’d have absolutely no regrets.”
When he retired, his collection of artifacts was vast. One day, his wife, Judy, a school teacher, asked if he would mind if some of her students came by to take a look. The visits went well and the word spread. Soon, Roynon had converted a large garage at his Escondido home into a private museum and he began having bus loads of children come there on field trips for interactive lessons.
In 2000, he formed a nonprofit and for the next 15 years he entertained and educated thousands of kids.
“As he says, it was never about the money,” Nutter said. “It’s about inspiring the kids.”
But then one neighbor complained to the city about the traffic Roynon’s home was causing and reluctantly City Hall got involved. They weren’t happy about it, but the activities in the garage were not a permitted use in the residential neighborhood.
Eventually, Roynon was told he had to stop what he was doing out of his home and a search began for a new site in a better-suited part of town. Many who loved Roynon came together, donations flowed, and a new 5,000-square-foot space was found at 457 East Grand Ave. It became a real museum, open to the public, that charged a nominal entrance fee and even had a gift shop.
But it also consumed Roynon’s life and time.
“Our problem is I’m getting to the age I can’t put the hours I have been into this anymore,” he said.
“I still have a lot of energy but there comes a time when your mind starts talking to you and saying, ‘Buddy, you better slow down.’ You better listen to your mind.”
The museum remains open until the end of next month. Its hours can vary and visitors should check its website -- roynonmuseum.org -- before heading over.
Nutter said she and others suggested they start moving some of the collection out before the closing, but Roynon would have none of it.
“He said we aren’t removing anything from here until the last kid walks out the door.”