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Published: Tuesday, 2/14/2006

Out-of-this-world generosity

PHILANTHROPY is alive and well in the United States. Generous donors constantly help educational institutions and charitable organizations with gifts large and small. Individuals with connections to a community usually are among the most notable donors.

That benevolence often is an expression of an axiom that dates to ancient Rome: Charity begins at home. One's own family, neighborhood, city, and country come before other responsibilities.

One new gift to the University of Pittsburgh is a remarkable exception.

The donor, Allen Cook, can stake a claim to being Pitt's biggest donor - in acreage, at least. This Wyoming cattle magnate and philanthropist gave Pitt a 4,700-acre chunk of his ranch. Mr. Cook is not a Pitt alumnus, has no ties to the university, and has never even been to Pittsburgh.

Although valued at $7 million, the gift's ultimate worth to science may be immeasurable. Mr. Cook gave Pitt a real-world Jurassic Park. That area of his ranch is a spectacular dinosaur graveyard believed to hold a rich trove of fossils.

Dozens of dinosaurs roamed Wyoming more than 65 million years ago. The list is a veritable who's who of famous dinos. Giants were there, including the elephant-sized Triceratops with that three-horned head. So were those deadly little talon-toed beasts made famous as "raptors" in the Jurassic Park film.

The gift does not ignore Mr. Cook's own neighborhood. While choosing Pitt to steward this scientific treasure, the arrangement gives Wyoming a stake in Mr. Cook's generosity, as well. It forges a partnership among Pitt, the University of Wyoming, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Students and scientists from those institutions now have a huge natural science laboratory to work in, learn in, and discover.



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