If it weren’t for a pocketful of rocks carried from the Pike’s Peak region in Colorado to Battle Creek, Mich., by a boyhood friend of Gary Raham, Colorado would be the poorer.
“Exotic,” is how Raham described his friend’s treasure. So exotic in fact, that when Raham graduated from the University of Michigan with a teaching certificate and degrees in biology, he decided to move west.
“I figured that if I was ever going to get out of Michigan, this would be the time to do it,” he said.
Arriving in 1969, he found a position teaching science — everything from earth science to physics, biology and life science in high school and middle school in Akron.
“Akron was a small place,” he says. “There were only two science teachers.”
By 1971 he’d fallen in love with Sharon, the physical education teacher at his school, and they’d married and decided to make a move. Raham was interested in putting his illustration skills to work, perhaps as a biomedical illustrator and as he puts it, “took potluck” and moved to Fort Collins. He ended up signing on as a graphic artist at Citizen Printing where he worked for 27 years and learned a whole lot about the printing business.
In 1997, he ventured out on his own as a full-time freelance illustrator and began to spend more time writing science-related articles and books. A man of many skills, the Wellington resident has been juggling his multiple talents ever since.
In the early days, he wrote for The American Biology Teacher, an educational journal. Then he moved on to producing science articles for children and was published in Highlights for Children and Cricket magazines.
He published his first book, “Dinosaurs in the Garden,” in 1988. Geared to middle-school students, the book featured text, illustrations and jacket design by Raham and was published by Plexus Publications of New Jersey.
The author of 17 books, Raham has especially fond memories of spending a couple of years working on “Deep Time Diaries,” a work that combined fact and fiction and encouraged middle-grade students to imagine themselves in a far-off time and place, engage their natural creativity and see science exploration as a living, dynamic endeavor. He credits his editor Suzanne Barchers with helping him to make his work the best it could be.
In 2004, he published “Teaching Science Fact with Science Fiction,” followed by “Fossils for the Restless Earth” series published by Chelsea House. He is now contemplating a book about well-known scientists who also were accomplished artists.
Raham volunteers for the Master Naturalist program in Fort Collins and last month led a group of local artists to a spot in Soapstone Natural Area where Lindenmeier expedition artist Edwin Cassedy made beautiful watercolor sketches. Cassedy was part of the Smithsonian scientific team unearthing artifacts in the 1930s. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the archaeological Folsom culture digs at the area now known as Soapstone.
For a decade Raham has been designing entrance signs for Fort Collins’ natural areas. These days he is busy re-designing the signs to reflect the city’s new logo.
Miscellaneous freelance work ranges from drawing an extinct fish for the Colorado State paleontologist, writing copy for activity calendars for Good Neighbor Press, and doing drawings for a Civil War writer based in Ohio.
He also does all the graphic design for the North Forty News, spending an intense period of work each month dealing with new advertising, changes and ever-impending deadlines.
He’s an active member of the Western Interior Paleontological Society and enjoys expeditions in search of the exotic rocks and fossils that drew him to Colorado many years ago. He credits these trips with the original inspiration for the Deep Time Diaries.
Raham always has several simultaneous projects. One of his newest is collecting the essays he’s written for adults over the years, adding full-color photos and commentary and producing a compilation of his work to be titled “Confessions of a Time Traveler.”
Prominent among the essays included will likely be the award-winning piece he wrote for Colorado Gardener in 2013, “Alive and Aloft in the Aeolian Zone.” Reflecting his ever-present sense of humor, even as he deals with complicated scientific data, the article won him the Colorado Author’s League award accompanied by prize money for the first time this year. The article explains the role of microorganisms in the atmosphere in a style comprehensible by any interested lay person.
His piece beat out Kimberly Field’s “Hotel Jerome,” and Kara L. Stewart’s “The Final Farewell” in the feature article/essays division.
Raham admits to being a compulsive doodler. “I drew cowboy hats on my capital letters and put together cowboy and Indian booklets as a first and second grader,” he said. His formal art training consisted of a mail-order drawing course when he was in high school.
He opted for a teaching certificate in college noting that growing up in a middle-class family, he felt it important to have a “backup.” Under different circumstances he might have struck out on his own sooner than he did.
The father of two daughters and grandfather to four children between the ages of 10 and 14, he and Sharon enjoy spending time on their Crystal Lakes property with their family.
“We like to travel,” Raham says. “I like chasing Sharon around as she competes in track and field events at senior games.” They have ventured as far as Australia where Sharon competed and visited New Zealand friends to make a school presentation.
Raham is a veteran tennis player, active in a CSU-sponsored team that competes in a Fort Collins USTA league. He’s also an avid reader, somehow finding time to devour lots of books — many non-fiction and science-related.
For more than a decade, Raham has held a special place in the heart of his writers’ critique group as the only male member. His insightful critiques provide much-needed balance and often supply solutions to knotty writing problems. In recent months he has spearheaded publication of group member Nancy Phillips’ novel “A Tardy Justice,” set in Leadville. In addition to formatting, he has created the cover design and is heavily involved in the marketing effort for the first product of Penstemon Press.
He has a talent for remaining calm, no matter the difficulty of the task at hand or the stress of a deadline. And he does it all with his trademark sense of humor intact. He’s an unquestioned lover of rocks, especially the exotic ones, but they have never gone to his head.