Remembering Eileen Eich

By Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director

With deepest condolences to her family and friends, I share the passing of Eileen E. Eich, cherished co-founder of our organization. Eileen departed us on January 25 following a long illness.

It stands that Penn Dixie would not be here without Eileen’s efforts. Affectionately known as ‘Mrs. Eich’ by our volunteers and staff, Eileen was simultaneously modest and proud of her decades of service to save Penn Dixie from development.

I first met Eileen by accident. One evening during my first year on the job, I was canvassing the neighborhood around Penn Dixie — also known as Steelton in Hamburg/Blasdell — to introduce myself to the community. I happened across a house with “Eich” on the mailbox.

As a new executive director in 2016, I had spent my first months poring over historical documents and business papers. Eileen’s roles as co-founder, early board member, and longtime volunteer were well-documented. Her name was everywhere. It was clear that she had been a dedicated and integral part of our history. However, since Eileen had retired some years ago, most of us newer folks had not made her acquaintance.

Was this really her home? I boldly rang the bell.

Presently, the door opened. I was greeted by a warm and friendly “Hello!” I introduced myself to the woman behind the screen door and asked if she was Eileen Eich of Penn Dixie fame. She said “Why, yes I am!” and invited me inside.

Penn Dixie Co-Founder Eileen Eich, Daughter Judy, Education Director Dr. Holly Schreiber, and Director Dr. Phil Stokes
HNHS/Penn Dixie Founder Eileen Eich, Dr. Phil Stokes, Eileen’s Daughter Judy, and Dr. Holly Schreiber.

Eileen’s home reminded me of long ago visits to my grandparents’ house. Pictures on the wall, knick knacks on shelves and furniture, memories everywhere. Eileen happily shared the story of Penn Dixie’s origins while filling it in with bits and pieces of her family and personal life. She said she missed her deceased husband, Ron, who had served in the Korean War and had died in the early 2000s at a relatively young age.

Eileen kept herself busy with community work and spending time with her family. She was especially proud of her four children and many grandchildren. I have to admit that, after an extended lesson in the family tree, I was thoroughly confused by all of the the names and stories that she shared. Help arrived, however, when we were joined by her daughter Judy who had just arrived home.

Judy, like her mother, had a strong connection to our past. Roped into volunteering, Judy relayed tales of her and her mom working to get a foothold for our organization in the community. They attended meetings together, tabled at events, and created a traveling fossil display for local libraries. This was the birth of Penn Dixie.

Penn Dixie 1990s display
Penn Dixie library display from the 1990s. Picture provided by Liz Gonsiorek.

Eileen and Judy were proud, but also nonchalant, about their efforts. “Oh yeah, we did all that” Judy summarized about the work to convince the Town of Hamburg that Penn Dixie was a place worth preserving. They kept a scrapbook, which they showed me, to commemorate the experience. ‘All that’ included countless meetings, trips to libraries and town halls, community events, and political arm twisting. It was truly an impressive grassroots effort by Eileen and her neighborhood friends Liz Gonsiorek and Sheila Kelly.

Little did they know that their work in the late 1980s and early 1990s would become what it did. But, Eileen was proud. “People come from all over the world,” she beamed. “Thousands of them come here to dig for fossils. Who would have known?”

After that evening, I met Eileen a few more times. I ran into her and her aide once or twice at local restaurants. Eileen also graced us at Penn Dixie during some of our larger fossil digs. Her family said that it always pleased Eileen to visit and see how things were coming with the organization. We also had the opportunity to interview Eileen along with co-founders Liz Gonsiorek and Sheila Kelly. You can read that story here.

Eileen Eich leaves behind an incredible legacy of leadership and community service. Our organization is grateful to her and her family for their outstanding efforts to preserve our geological treasure. We will miss you, Eileen.


More reading:

Eileen Eich Obituary – Kaczor Funeral Homes

Buffalo News Obituary

1990 Buffalo News Article on Eileen’s Work

Celebrating Penn Dixie’s Heroes

Fluorescent Minerals

Wednesday March 18, 7:00 pm

By Dino Zack, P.G.; Geologist/Project Manager, AECOM Technical Services, Inc.

Approximately 4,000 different mineral species have been identified at this time. Over 500 of them are known to fluoresce visibly in some specimens. Dino Zack, PG, will discuss the various types of luminescence with a detailed explanation of mineral fluorescence.

Fluorescent rock and mineral specimens from New York State, as well as world-know locations, will be on display and used to demonstrate the many types of luminescence including fluorescence, phosphorescence, triboluminescence, thermoluminescence, and tenebrescence.

An illustrated presentation with mineral specimens, in the auditorium of the Gateway Executive Office Building, 3556 Lake Shore Rd., Blasdell, NY 14219.

FREE for members and $4 for the public. No registration needed.

Spring 2020 Opening Weekend

Join us for the opening of our 25th season! Dig for fossils on Saturday April 25 and Sunday April 26 for the same rates as our 1995 season: $3 for Adults and $2 for Children.

No reservations needed. Tours depart every 15 minutes beginning at 9 am. The final tour each day departs at 3:45 pm. The park closes at 4:30 pm.

No other discounts accepted on Opening Weekend. Discount tickets not available online. We do not charge for children under age 3. No charge for members. Veterans may visit for free if they present a valid Erie County ‘Thank A Vet’ Discount Program card. Please see our cancellation and refund policy. We accept cash or credit cards.

Dig With The Experts

Join us for our signature fossil dig — Dig with the Experts! This is our very popular, once yearly opportunity to unearth the best, most complete, and most unexpected fossils at Penn Dixie. We’ll have equipment do the heavy lifting and scientific experts on site to help with locating and identifying the best fossils. You’ll have to do your share of splitting and digging, of course, but you’re guaranteed to find something cool and interesting.

Saturday May 16: 9 am to 4 pm
Sunday May 17: 9 am to 4 pm
Monday May 18: 9 am to 4 pm (limited staffing)

Expert volunteers — including scientists, leading fossil collectors, and experts on local geology — will lead the dig in a freshly excavated section of the Lower Windom Shale and will demonstrate how to find Devonian Period trilobites, cephalopods, fish remains, brachiopods, corals, wood, and a range of other marine invertebrates. Thanks to our experts — all volunteer collectors and paleontologists who travel to Penn Dixie to share their time and knowledge — we are celebrating our 16th dig and in 2020! Saturday participants will receive a special commemorative gift.

But, wait — there’s more! Superstar paleontologist ‘Paleo’ Joe Kchodl and Executive Director Dr. Phil Stokes will join us for special science talks the evening before the dig in the Gateway Building Auditorium, 3556 Lakeshore Road in Blasdell, NY.

Dr. Stokes will present his overview of Penn Dixie’s rocks and fossils, titled Britain to Buffalo: The Fossil Connection, at 6:30 pm. Keynote speaker PaleoJoe will present Devonian: The Age of Fish at 7:00 pm. PaleoJoe will also display some of his fossils and will host a book signing following his talk.

These family-friendly presentations are FREE for Penn Dixie members AND registered dig guests, or $4 for the public. Refreshments included. No reservations needed. Talks begin at 6:30 pm.

Tickets – Select date to purchase
Saturday May 16: Members $35, non-members $40
Sunday May 17: Members $20, non-members $25, under 18 $15
Weekend Pass: Members $45, non-members $55 – SAVE $10
Monday May 18: Included for all guests.

Director’s Notes: This program will sell out — please reserve by April 15 to guarantee a spot. By popular demand, we offer Child (under age 18) tickets for Sunday’s dig at $15 each. Children must be accompanied at all times. We do not recommend that children under age 7 attend this program due to the technical and safety requirements of splitting rocks. Children are welcome to attend on Saturday at the regular rate. During Dig With The Experts, other areas of Penn Dixie will be open to fossil collectors of all ages and regular tours will be available. Tickets are electronic and will not be mailed.

International Guests: If the Square Store cannot process your transaction, please email Dr. Phil Stokes at phil@penndixie.org with your name, order info (i.e., dates, numbers and types of tickets), and membership status. We’ll send you a PayPal invoice directly. When you arrive, please request special documentation to help at customs.


Dig with the Experts draws collectors from around the globe for this unique opportunity, which was developed and is currently co-led by our friends from the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers. Bring a hammer, chisel, safety glasses, newspaper, and paper towels to wrap your fossils. Extra water is recommended, plus bring rain gear just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Food trucks will be on site Saturday and Sunday to serve lunch. Guests are welcome to bring their own food and beverages, as well as a small cart to transport personal items and specimens. Chairs and umbrellas are okay, too. We thank Zoladz Construction Co., Inc. for their help to get Penn Dixie ready for this big event.

Additional information:

Penn Dixie Frequently asked questions

Buffalo ranked America’s favorite city to visit, upstaging all competitors

Sex in the Ordovician: Trilobite Reproduction

Wednesday April 1, 7:00 pm

By Thomas Hegna, Assistant Professor, Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences, SUNY Fredonia

This talk focuses on the discovery of trilobites with in situ eggs from the Ordovician of New York State. It uses this discovery as a touchstone to discuss the evolution of trilobite and arthropod reproduction in general.

An illustrated presentation in the auditorium of the Gateway Executive Office Building, 3556 Lake Shore Rd., Blasdell, NY 14219.

FREE for members and $4 for the public. No registration needed.

Volunteer Orientation

Wednesday April 8, 6 pm to 8 pm

Penn Dixie would not exist without our volunteers! To keep growing, we’re always on the lookout for help with programming, school visits, community engagement, site maintenance, and administration. No experience necessary. We will provide all the training needed! Learn about Penn Dixie from our staff and experienced volunteers and receive the tools that you will need to make a difference. Refreshments included.

Orientation is held in the auditorium of the Gateway Executive Office Building, 3556 Lake Shore Rd. Blasdell, NY. Email Director of Education Dr. Holly Schreiber at holly@penndixie.org to register.

Earth Day Cleanup

Saturday April 18, 10 am to 2 pm

Join our team of volunteers as we perform the annual cleanup of Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve. For our 25th Anniversary Cleanup, we will be moving our efforts to a new part of Penn Dixie along Jeffrey Blvd (see map below).

Earth Day Map
Find the orange X in the top left corner of the map. This year’s Earth Day Cleanup will be held at a new part of Penn Dixie adjacent to Jeffrey Blvd.

Helpers are needed for various beautification projects including debris pickup, tree planting, and general maintenance. We do not yet have an address for this part of the property. You may park along the shoulder of Jeffrey Blvd. to the North of BFG Manufacturing Services located at 3949 Jeffrey Blvd. Please do not park in the BFG parking lot — it is private property.

There is no charge for admission and lunch will be provided. Contact Executive Director Dr. Phil Stokes at phil@penndixie.org to signup.