Noted Danbury-area mineralogist and ‘father’ of pink dinosaur honored
For many years, a towering pink dinosaur greeted motorists along Route 6 just over the state line in Brewster, serving as a landmark outside of the Dinosaur Gift & Mineral Shoppe.
The statue was just as well known as the man who built it — Ronald Januzzi, a noted Danbury mineralogist who inspired countless others to enter the field as amateurs and professionals alike. He died in March at the age of 88 and was honored last weekend.
“They weren’t the most accurate looking — but they really inspired people,” said John Pawloski about the famous dinosaur sculptures.
Pawloski remembers visiting the museum whenever he could to see Januzzi and his collection.
He’s known Januzzi for 73 years and helped assemble an exhibit to honor his legacy at the Danbury Mineralogical Society’s annual Gem, Jewelry and Mineral Show on Sept. 8 and Sept. 9 at New Milford High School.
Januzzi helped create the first show more than 65 years ago.
The exhibit included his mining helmet, photographs and documents.
He amassed a collection of tens of thousands of minerals during his decades-long career, dozens of which have been displayed at the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian and the Peabody Museum.
“He probably had the largest and finest collection of Connecticut minerals outside of a university or major museum," Pawloski said.
Januzzi specialized in Connecticut and New York minerals, and even found local Danburite. The mineral was first discovered in Danbury in the late 1830s, but the location was lost by the end of that century. Large quantities are in Russia and Mexico, but it’s hard to find it where it was first found.
“It’s probbaly been the Holy Grail for both of us,” Pawloski said. “Danbury is not the prettiest Danburite in the world but the original Danbury location is what makes it fascinating.”
Januzzi did most of his mining in Branchville and at Brewster’s Tilly Foster quarry — at one time the deepest iron mine in the U.S.. He wrote guidebooks on the sites and became an expert on the area.
“He made a tremendous contribution to the types of minerals found in both locations," Pawloski said.
Januzzi was also dedicated to preserving the history and the mines themselves, many of which were threatened by development.
Some of Januzzi’s samples are now at the Connecticut Museum of Mining and Mineral Science, where Pawloski is the director.
Pawloski credits Januzzi for getting him into the field.
During World War II, Pawloski and his mother lived with her sister on Elm Street in Danbury, just a few doors down from Januzzi, who was the son of Tony Januzzi — a long-time Danbury barber. When Pawloski was 3, he would go to Januzzi’s house and watch him work.
“It’s where I developed my interest,” Pawloski said. “He was more or less my mentor for many, many years.”
Pawloski started taking lessons from Januzzi when he was 6 and then joined the Danbury Mineralogical Society four years later, which Januzzi established as a teenager.
“He exuded a passion and love for minerals and earth sciences,” Pawloski said.
It wasn’t just Pawloski who Januzzi inspired. Januzzi has encouraged countless mineralogists to take up the profession through his books, lectures, classes and especially museum shop.
Januzzi was known for teaching countless busloads of school children and scout troops at his shop about minerals and the hundreds of dinosaur tracks he collected from throughout the Connecticut valley.
The giant pink dinosaur out front did suffer some indignities over the years, as New York Times columnist William E. Geist chronicled in 1982: “Serving for 27 years as the trademark of the Dinosaur Gift and Mineral Shoppe, day and night, whatever the weather, the fabric, wood and chicken wire dinosaur has been punched, kicked, lassoed, and shot at with a .38-caliber pistol, and was recently attacked repeatedly by a GMC Blazer.”
As more corporate headquarters opened nearby and the area began to change, newcomers would sometimes ask Januzzi to knock down the duckbilled dino because they considered it tacky, which rankled Januzzi’s independent and imaginative streaks.
Januzzi sold the museum in the 1980s so he could move to Maine, where he started another museum.
“He’s had a tremendous influence on hundreds and hundreds of mineral collectors in the region,” Pawloski said.
Ted Johnson, a fellow mineral collector, was introduced to Januzzi in the mid-1970s after reading one of his books.
Johnson said he admires how Januzzi became an expert through his personal experience in the field and colleagues and then shared that information with others.
“He was basically a self-educated educator,” he said. “He learned everything about the field of mineralogy on his own or with his affiliation with various universities and associations. He chose to share that knowledge with the world.”