Interview – Great Valley Museum Showcases the Earth and More

By: Mick V. Rubalcava, Editor-in-Chief of

The Great Valley Museum Showcases Earth and MORE
This month the View Crew is partnering up with organizations and events to promote Earth Day. The City of Modesto leads the way in appreciating and preserving our little piece of this beautiful planet.

With all the focus on Earth Day this month I got to thinking; what about all the other planets? Then I remembered that we have a truly amazing, state of the art Planetarium right here in our city at the Modesto Junior College West Campus! The Planetarium is part of the Great Valley Museum, which has been serving the people of our community for over 40 years.

I decided to invite the Director of the Great Valley Museum, Arnold Chavez on the Radio Show to get the scoop on the Planetarium.
The William R. Luebke Planetarium is not only used for fun but is a really powerful tool being used to educate the scientists of tomorrow. “We have a very powerful Zeiss Skymaster ZKP4 that allows us to essentially turn the dome into the night sky,” Director Chavez explained, “So when the astronomy classes want to do some observations in the day, they just go into the planetarium and pull up the night sky. They can pull up and observe the sky from any location and any time past or present.”
In addition to the star projection system the Planetarium offers several different shows. You’ll often find students of all ages on school field trips to the museum being inspired by these entertaining and educational feats of technology. These shows are also available to the general public on Saturdays at 11am and 1pm, as well as the first Friday of every month at 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm. The cost is $4- for children ages 4-12, $6- for adults, and $5- for seniors and students.

The first Friday of every month is the Museum’s Science Night. I asked Director Chavez what the most fun part of Science Night is, “The most fun thing about Science Night is that the astronomy club will come out and set up their telescopes on the roof so there’s free telescope viewing for the kids.”
Now the Great Valley Museum offers a lot more than the planetarium and they’ve grown quite a bit over the last few years. Most of us locals remember the museum when it was located at the MJC East Campus. When I was a kid I remember being quite impressed with the building that held all the taxidermy. I asked Director Chavez about the collection and he explained “The museum started with a large taxidermy collection from local businessman Maurits Osterberg (1896~1988) in the early 70’s”, Chavez continued, “I assume you remember the Polar Bear and the large Kodiak Brown Bear? Those two, we like to refer to them as our security guards because they’re now at the front of our museum when you walk in.”
I recalled that the old location showcased live animals as well. I asked the Director about the live animals at the museum, “We have over two dozen live animals. We have those in our Discovery Room behind glass. We have various snakes and tarantulas. We recently just picked up a Whipless Scorpion which is really cool.”

One thing that I always enjoyed about the museum growing up was the hands-on activities. I asked Director Chavez if the new museum continues this, “We have a Discovery Room which has hands on activities so we like to tell our guests, ‘once you pass that barrier you can touch away!'”
I asked Director Chavez what one of his favorite exhibits is, “One of the big pieces we have is Science on a Sphere,” Director Chavez continued, “It is a six foot carbon fiber sphere suspended from the ceiling that has four projectors in every corner of the room that projects an image on it. So you walk into this area and you’re looking at the Earth, you’re looking at the Sun… whatever you want to put up there! It’s just one of those things you have to see.
There are new exhibits being added all the time to the museum and Director Chavez told me about a big new addition coming soon, “We will soon be opening the Great Valley Nature Lab. It’s going to be right next to the Science Community Center.” I recalled that the old location had an outdoor section that featured native vegetation and asked the Director if the new Nature Lab would include this, he answered, “Yes, that is essentially going to replace what you are referring to.”

Of course one of the most fun things about going to any museum is leaving with gifts and souvenirs, “The museum has always had a niche for carrying what you can’t get anywhere else and I’ve tried to continue that,” the Director explained, “If you can’t find it in a big box store we may have it. So we look for these unique items.” From rocks and gems, to stuffed animals, to home science kits, the museum is packed with unique items in their gift store.
As I wrapped up the interview I asked Director Chavez about volunteering at the museum, “I have two full-time staff members, about a dozen part-time teachers who work in our outreach program, a handful of students, but the bulk of our workers are volunteers. It’s a wonderful group that we have. We have about four dozen of them. We’re constantly looking for volunteers. We have opportunities from giving tours to school children, to working events in the community, and sometimes just cleaning the museum. That’s always a big help.”

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 4pm at 2201 Blue Gum Ave. in Modesto and you can give them a call at 209-575-6196.
I had a great time talking with Director Chavez on my show. You can watch the video of the full interview right now at and get more information from the Great Valley Museum website

Thanks for reading Modesto View and be sure to check out my radio show every Saturday at 1pm on Power Talk 1360 KFIV for great interviews with notable people every single week.



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