Rowan alumni Jean and Ric Edelman are committing $25 million for development of the university’s Fossil Park, the university announced this morning.

The funds will help preserve and expand the university’s Fossil Park in Mantua Township, New Jersey.  The gift marks the second largest in university history, second only to Henry Rowan’s $100 million in 1992, and is the largest ever given by alumni to the university.

Their donation will specifically contribute to building a museum and visitor center at the fossil park site.  Other plans include a preparation lab which will teach how scientists study fossils, a nature trail, a paleontology-themed playground, social spaces to accommodate special events and the opportunity for families to participate in paleontological digs at the site.

“What’s important to us is to provide a huge impact to the future,” Jean Edelman said at a private briefing before the public announcement Monday. “We wouldn’t have anticipated this, but Rowan has provided us with so much, this will allow education for generations.”

President Ali Houshmand speaks during the announcement of Jean and Ric Edleman's $25 million gift on Oct. 17./Photo by Cole Ditzel
President Ali Houshmand speaks during the announcement of Jean and Ric Edelman’s $25 million gift on Oct. 17. -Photo Editor/Cole Ditzel

Jean, a 1981 alumna, and Ric, a 1980 alumnus, are founders of Edelman Financial Services and have provided financial counseling in the amount of $17 billion for more than 31,000 individuals since their business has been in place. They both said their contribution is their way of giving back to the university which shaped their careers today.

Jean, who currently serves on the university’s Board of Trustees, said she first heard a presentation Dr. Kenneth Lacovara gave about the fossil park at a trustees meeting. Lavovara is the present park director and dean of the School of Earth and Environment.

“I became really excited about it,” she said, and promptly went home to tell her husband about the fossil park.

This idea of Jean’s transformed into the gift of $25 million, which is also the third largest to a public institution in New Jersey.

At the briefing, Rowan President Dr. Ali Houshmand explained that the university hopes to open the park by 2020.  The university is planning to hire experts who will determine the size of the museum based on the area’s demands in order to start building.  Architects and builders will subsequently be hired and begin the construction.

Lacovara anticipates the new museum will attract thousands of visitors from surrounding areas, citing that the quarry is within a day’s drive of one third of the U.S. population.

“This will make [the quarry] a global tourist destination and it will boost the economy of the region in the process,” Lacovara said.

Although the creation of the museum will create jobs, the Edelmans hope the quarry will fuel children’s and students’ love for the sciences and form a gateway to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“We’re hoping fossils will be the gateway drug to the sciences,” Lacovara said.

SGA President Daniel Cardona made remarks on behalf of the student body at the event saying he, too, felt deep gratitude for the gift.

From left: Daniel Cardona, Jean Edleman, Ric Edleman/Photo by Cole Ditzel
From left: Daniel Cardona, Jean Edelman, Ric Edelman. -Photo Editor/Cole Ditzel

“When you pulled off the unveiling of the park just now, I don’t often tear up but I got tears in my eyes because I realized I am truly Rowan Proud,” he said.

The park will be named the Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University.

The quarry

Rowan University purchased the quarry in January for $1.95 million. The 65-acre quarry contains thousands of 65-million-year-old fossils.  At the park, Lacovara’s team is trying to determine if a six-inch bone from the end of the Cretaceous Period is related to the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs.

Lacovara emphasized the park’s global significance. The museum and developments will only further this research.

RELATED: Lacovara gives TED Talk on the educational impact of dinosaurs

The park is already widely popular. Locovara said the park has already seen more than 15,000 visitors. The 2,000 spots available for the Community Dig Day at the park on Sept. 10 filled up in 23 minutes, he said.

The Edelmans

Although Jean and Ric presently reside in Virginia, Jean is originally from Westminster and Ric grew up in Cherry Hill.   The pair’s background is not in the sciences. Instead, Ric studied communication and Jean studied consumer economics and marketing.

The pair was able to synthesize their skill sets to create their business, and the two find it important to always give back.

“If you had first told me in October of 1977 that I’d be making this impactful gift in 2016, I’m not sure if I would have believed you,” Jean said. “If not for our education and leadership skills we learned from student government here, we would not have had the courage to start a financial company.”

Jean was the first female SGA president in the college’s history, when Rowan was then known as Glassboro State College.

In 2002, the Edelmans gave $1 million to establish the Edelman Fund in support of Rowan’s planetarium. In 2007, they donated $54,000 to the Rowan University Foundation to cover admission for elementary students to the planetarium. In 2010, the pair gifted $240,000 to the implementation of a full-dome digital projection system.