July 19, 2017

Remembering a Fossil Rim favorite: Jan Bussey

Jan Bussey became a volunteer for Fossil Rim in 1986. After 10 years of volunteer service, Jan changed roles to become an employee until she retired in 2014. She then returned to volunteering until recently.  Including her years of volunteer service, she devoted 31 years to Fossil Rim. Jan, who passed away earlier in July, leaves behind a legacy as an educator, ambassador, dedicated volunteer, and friend. Numerous friends and colleagues wanted to share their memories of Jan’s life and friendship. 


Tom Mantzel, original Fossil Rim owner: “As the founder of Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, I observed a number of different ‘kaleidoscopic’ aspects in the early formative years up to the time that Jim (Jackson) and Krystyna (Jurzykowski) took over. The gamut of feelings ranges from the euphoric to the absolute bottomless abyss. One of the high points was the involvement early on with the docents and, as I worked with them, I came to appreciate the invaluable elements these individuals brought to the party.

Their love, their selfless devotion, their thirst for knowledge, their desire to make the Fossil Rim ‘experience’ for the visitor one that they would not forget. Those fortunate to have crossed paths with Jan Bussey would also say she is one we will not forget. Jan occupied a special niche in my heart.

Always smiling, always bubbly, Jan threw herself into the docent’s role.  Whenever we crossed paths, either in the early years or later on in my periodic visits, she was always quick to throw her arms around me and let me know what Fossil Rim meant to her.  What she meant to Fossil Rim, to me and thousands of visitors, was a composite individual with various facets that made Jan ‘Jan.’

Those of us fortunate enough to have crossed paths with her know what I mean. Week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, Jan was always available and always quick to offer her services.  She was a unique person – one who will be missed, and when one thinks about the so-called spirit of Fossil Rim, Jan is precisely the individual who embodies that. We will miss her.”


Krystyna Jurzykowski, former Fossil Rim co-owner: “Jim (Jackson) and I met Jan on one of our very first days on-site in February of 1988 at the time when we arrived to move permanently to Fossil Rim. Jan, amongst a small and solid group of committed volunteers, was proud to say that she had suggested herself to be ‘the one’ to take us around to further introduce us to the place ‘I love so very much.’

Our arrival to Fossil Rim had not been such an easy time, and through her special kind of welcome we received on that day, we knew we had arrived in order to belong to something so much larger than any of our own individual efforts and interests. She guided and toured with a heart full of enthusiasm! Her smile and eyes spoke more than words could ever do, and her grasp of what would become possible seemed so very natural.

Her energy really knew no bounds. No matter how many tours she had given in a day, a week or month, Jan showed that same curiosity and appreciation for the awe and wonder which surrounded her each time. I bet if we calculated how many tours she might have given in her multiple decades of service, we would be astounded.

This bundle of joy with infectious commitment for giving soon became not only a colleague, but also a friend. As we all grew into a team, a momentum began to build and grow to shape the community family of Fossil Rim. Jan was always there, present with her kindness, enthusiasm and collaborative participation. What an eternal legacy she has gifted us all.”

Sara Paulsen, volunteer and Master Naturalist: “I first met Jan as part of my Rio Brazos Master Naturalist training in August of 2011 as part of the Volunteers as Teachers portion. I remember she gave an unforgettable tour of Fossil Rim sharing the beautiful creatures and panoramic views, while instilling in us the message of conservation. Jan’s enthusiasm and pride in Fossil Rim was contagious.

I knew at that moment that I wanted to be part of this incredible place. She served as a mentor and trainer to me as I learned how to become an effective volunteer.  Her standards were high, and she inspired me to share not only facts, but also the conservation heartbeat of Fossil Rim.

Jan and I became dear friends and shared many adventures together. She was a wonderful steward of her intrinsic gifts in life, her love and knowledge of nature, always living as she believed.  I miss her humor, wisdom and tenacity, but mostly her friendship.  Rest In Peace my dear friend.”


Jason Ahistus, carnivore curator: “I loved Jan. She was such a kind, caring individual but knew how to joke around and have a good time, as well. We had many great conversations not only about animals, but about traveling and hiking.

We shared many of the same passions in that respect. I loved hearing about her travels and she loved hearing about mine. We compared hikes and talked about photography and the sites we have seen.

(My wife) Jordan and I are planning a Utah national parks trip in August and I was so excited to tell Jan about it, but never got the chance. She would’ve been so excited to hear that. She will always live on in our memories, and I am very sorry she is gone.”

Mary Jo Stearns, former carnivore curator: “Jan was a whirlwind of energy fueled by her love of animals. There are two specific things that will remain with me about Jan. The first being her love for one of our maned wolves, Katie.

Jan was devoted to Katie and insisted that Fossil Rim name the little guest house on admin road ‘Katie’s Cottage’ after Katie’s death. Secondly, every Christmas, Jan never failed to have a small, personal gift for each animal care person, year after year. Jan was a true educator to guests because of her enthusiasm for Fossil Rim and for its animals.

It was contagious and guests felt it, appreciated it and learned from it. Jan will be missed by employees, animals and scores of people who may not have known her name, but took away a new insight into wildlife after being on a tour led by Jan Bussey.”

Sandra Skrei, former education director: “Although Jan was always quick to point out that she was not one of the original docents from the Fort Worth Zoo who started the Fossil Rim Docent program, she was definitely part of the heart and soul of the docent corps when I arrived as Director of Education in 1988.  I remember this indefatigable woman who was managing to raise two small children on her own and be there to volunteer whenever she was needed!  If she didn’t have someone to watch the kids, they came with her!

Long after I left Fossil Rim, I ran into a Fossil Rim booth at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo, and I immediately recognized Jan’s smiling face.  I greeted her saying, ‘Wow, I am impressed that you are still volunteering after all these twenty-plus years!’ to which I found out she finally had her dream job and was working for Fossil Rim.  Zoom ahead another seven years, I returned to Glen Rose to work once again with Krystyna (Jurzykowski). Jan was still there, now with the tours department, and I sat with her one day to have lunch.

To this day, when I give directions to High Hope (Ranch), I start with the directions Jan gave every caller to the Overlook.  I try to do it the same way she did, where the current caller had no idea she had given those same directions to hundreds, if not thousands, of callers before. I, like all of us, will miss Jan’s twinkly smile, readiness to do most anything and everything needed, and hearing guests from High Hope telling me what a great tour they had, and not surprisingly, telling me that Jan was their guide.”


Trich Zaitoon, tour guide since mid ‘80s: “Jan and I first met at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Mansfield in 1980. Then, with all the franticness of babies and just life we didn’t see each other for a few years until that fateful day in early spring of 1986. Jan was chaperoning Laura’s (her daughter) field trip to Fossil Rim.

I had the pleasure of being the tour guide on that tour. We both looked at each other and just hugged, glad to be reacquainted. At the end of the tour Jan about knocked me down to ask, ‘How do I get to do THIS?’

And as fast as I could, I said ‘follow me’ and I introduced her to our Education Director Kevin Tansky, and she immediately became part of the Fossil Rim family.  With Jan’s love and knowledge of nature, teaching and Fossil Rim, I soon realized I had become her student. There is no way to measure the number of lives this amazing lady changed by her passion and compassion, not only for her friends and family, but the world as well.

I don’t feel that I can adequately express how to honor this precious and loving woman.  I will simply say that the world is a better place for having Jan in it. I know my life is better because she loved me.”

Curt Decker, IT staff and naturalist: “Jan appointed herself to be my ‘Fossil Rim mom’ pretty much from the day I started working here. After telling me she was invited (which she would have been anyhow), she attended my wedding. Jan Bussey was decisive, direct and resolute.

You always knew where you stood with her, and she didn’t pull punches. If she thought you were doing the right thing, she let you know. And boy, did she SURE let you know if she thought you weren’t!

There are many qualities for which I love and admire Jan, but first and foremost will always be her tenacity. She completely dedicated herself to ANYTHING she put her efforts into, and Fossil Rim was no exception. She volunteered at Fossil Rim for several years before taking a job here.

After working here for over a decade, she ‘retired.’ She immediately began volunteering here again until she physically couldn’t any longer. Even then, she called or emailed to make sure I was taking care of ‘her place.’

I could get really mushy, sentimental or philosophical…but Jan would have just teased me about it if I did. Suffice it to say I’ll miss her, but am grateful for having known her.”

Chris Paulsen, volunteer and Master Naturalist: “Jan was my mentor when I trained as a volunteer tour guide at Fossil Rim. I liked that she always wanted the facts correct, and the tours experience to be an enjoyable and educational one, for the public deserved no less. She was hardworking and fun when she retired and joined the volunteers.

In regard to Fossil Rim, she was passionate and knowledgeable of its vast history.  On a personal level, she and I were a lot like a brother and sister. We had fun, picked on each other and loved each other.

She was a bold, independent and fiercely loyal person who experienced life to the fullest. She will be sorely missed, but will live on in the many lives she touched.”

Chandler McLay, former education director: “I joined Fossil Rim as education director in 1995, a time when docents were the welcoming group for nearly all the visitors to Fossil Rim. Jan was one of the first docents I met. I was immediately drawn to her spirited welcome and readiness to do whatever was necessary to help guests and staff find enjoyment, as they experienced each moment at Fossil Rim.

Her eyes big, her smile broad, her body exuding that ever-ready energy and excitement to open great adventures and experiences, as each child and adult learned something unique about each animal, the value of the plants and trees, and the great need for all people to have the experience of relationships, one with another, and with all the beauty, danger and delight this great Mother Earth can share with us once we realize we are a part of the cycles of all life, rather than a species apart from it. Jan won a quick invite to become a part of the education department.  Her tenacity to be enlightened by each experience and to pass that along within each moment is a model we all can admire and expand within ourselves.”

Holly Haefele, animal health director: “Jan was always a bright light at Fossil Rim. She was thoughtful, remembering my favorite candy at Christmas each year. I particularly like to remember her sharing her travel tales during retirement: tenting out west, appreciating the wild, the quiet and the beauty.

We should all take a lesson from Jan: get out there and do fun stuff. Travel. Sleep outside and look at the stars. Fossil Rim and all who worked with Jan will miss her greatly.”

Kelley Snodgrass, chief operating officer: “She was so very considerate. Each year at Christmas, Jan made or picked something up to give us. A Christmas ornament, a metal cactus from her travels, etc. From my desk, I can look upon a gift from Jan right now. The best Fossil Rim gift was her dedication, devotion and passion for this place, what it does, its programs and its people.”


Pat Condy, executive director: “What never failed to capture my attention about Jan was her always happy and enthusiastic demeanor and the big smile. She will be missed”.


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  • Jan was truly a gift and she loved her people to the fullest. We are so happy to have the opportunity to celebrate her life with all the wonderful people who loved her. Thank you Fossil Rim for this beautiful tribute. ❤️

  • What a wonderful tribute to a quietly amazing lady! I met Jan many years ago when we were both volunteers at FR. I loved those times when I could get on her tour bus and soak up her knowledge and enthusiasm and her passion for FR. We became good friends and I will truly miss her gentle soul, her sense of humor and her loving nature.



  • I am so saddened by Jan’s passing. She was the first person I met at Fossil Rim. She was my teacher and became my friend. She was responsible for making it possible for me to find my favorite place on earth, as I became a docent. I was priviladged to meet all the wonderful people who make FR possible. And all the animals I dearly loved, Marvin, Max, Oreo, Moose and Bruce, Icabod, just to name a few, who like Jan, are no longer there. Time moves on and yet I gained so much from them. RIP, Jan. You made such a difference. I will always remember you. My best to your family.

  • I am so bery saddened to hear of Jan’s passing. I volunteered with Jan for eleven years. During that time, I was moved and impressed with her enthusiasm, love and deep understanding of life and its connectivity. I admired her passion and the urgency she felt, to help others see and feel how delicate the balance of life is and how important it is for human beings to become advicates for the preservation and conservation of all life. Thank you, Jan. Love to her family. victoria Scism

  • Jan is the reason that I am at Fossil Rim. A novice Master Naturalist with absolutely no idea where I wanted to volunteer – Jan made it very clear that I needed to be at Fossil Rim. And so I am. We went shopping, out to lunch ( literally, not figuratively) and just plain met to gossip.
    I will try to be as caring and adventuresome as she has been.
    And will think of her every time I set foot on the Grounds.
    Carol Lee

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