Sandy’s Story, Part 3

            Sandy arrived as a temporary loan to coincide with the 1981 gray whale winter migration.

            The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History (PGMNH) was interested in updating displays. “ We had the idea of a gray whale exhibit. With me, I'm always thinking of more and bigger,” recalls Paul Finnegan, the Assistant Director at the time.  Paul worked at the Smithsonian Institution in the mid-1970s where he met Larry Foster who was engrossed with thousands of photographs researching whale anatomy.  Paul learned about Larry’s life-size whale sculpture and asked Museum Director Vern Yadon about renting one.  Connections were made, Sandy arrived on a truck and kids came running!                

            Flash forward to the 1982 gray whale winter migration.

            Within a year after Sandy’s arrival, attendance inside the museum had increased and outside children climbed on the whale as families snapped photographs.

“ It was obvious the children loved the sculpture…Maybe we could get permission to copy it or buy it, so I wrote to Larry with the idea of opening the dialogue .“  Vern Yadon

“ It breathed life into the museum.”  Paul Finnegan

            Larry was facing health challenges at that time and it wasn’t easy finding places for two ~50 foot whale sculptures.  “Why don’t you buy this one?,” he suggested.  An offer of  $24,000 with a timeline of one year to purchase Sandy was set.  The museum was working on an expansion campaign for a new wing. Vern had already talked to several people who said two campaigns at the same time was not a good idea.  Other institutions where the whale was exhibited also wanted to purchase the sculpture, though Larry preferred keeping Sandy on the Monterey Peninsula as it was a perfect location where whales could be seen easily during migrations.

            Soon after Larry made his offer, good fortune and fate would have it that coastal biologist David Shonman was walking by the museum and saw Vern.  After hearing about the offer to sell Sandy to the museum, David went to see his friend Milos Radakovich, a former colleague at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and a member of the Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society (ACS).  David said, “Sandy is so popular, I bet we could raise the money in the community.”  Milos had recently heard of a school that raised money for their football field by selling “square feet” of turf for $10.  He knew that Sandy weighed approximately four tons (8,000 pounds). “Hmmm, an 8,000 pound sculpture for $24,000 … people could “buy” portions of Sandy for $3 a pound. That could work!”  He created an official certificate with illustration and embossed seal.  Volunteers had access to copiers, graphics and office support.  Randy Puckett, an artist and current president of ACS, thought the idea of the museum acquiring the ferro-cement sculpture was a tremendous idea, and that they should become involved in helping the acquisition happen.  Everyone forged ahead.  The ‘Whale Fund’ drive officially opened at the January 6, 1982 Pacific Grove City Council meeting with Mayor Florus Williams and other council members being the first to buy shares at $3 a pound.


             By February, nearly $4,700 worth of Sandy had been purchased.  ACS spouted progress in their newsletter Soundings, “At this writing, ‘Sandy', the gray whale in front of the Pacific Grove Mvsevm of Natural History is well on her way to becoming a permanent fixture!  Please hold the applause…We have a long way yet to go and we need people to help us contact schools, local businesses & clubs, and to distribute posters and sell certificates at upcoming community events such as Good Old Days.”

            Vern Yadon continues to credit Milos Radakovich, “I think it was Milos’ thought process that made it possible.  It was a cute idea and it worked.  People would come by the museum and their kids would be playing on the whale.  They would buy a pound of the whale for their child. We sold shares to people who gave gifts to grandfathers in London.  People thought it was fun, and after it was all done and some years later, people were saying, ‘Where can I get a certificate?’ …they became collectors’ items.”  Vern Yadon  

           Nearly $7,000 had been raised by March 3rd.  Volunteers sold certificates at the museum, Grove Market and other prominent local places.  Visitors stopped and asked, “What’s going on here?”  People joked about what part of the whale they were buying.  Options emerged for those wanting to ‘buy big’ with 10-pound and 20-pound clubs who received special framed certificates.  Fun escalated on March 13th with “Whale Day”,  a community drive that had all the elements of a festive party —  music, cookies, balloons and juggling!  Sandy also participated as children got into a tire toss game.

Whale Day!  March 13, 1982.  Milos Radakovich (seated) and David Shonman (standing)  lead the campaign and fun!  Sandy is in her original location off of Forest Avenue.

Whale Day!  March 13, 1982.  Milos Radakovich (seated) and David Shonman (standing)  lead the campaign and fun!  Sandy is in her original location off of Forest Avenue.

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            The call for help was heard across the waters.  The Marine Environmental Research vessel, Varua, had been researching gray whales in Hawaii.  When they docked in Monterey, they were moved by Sandy’s cause.  They didn’t have extra funds, but Captain Russell Nilsson offered to take a group of 20-25 people on all-day whale watching trips, keeping only the expense of fuel.  A local fireman made a sign “Help Save our Whale - $3 a pound” that is still in the basement museum today.

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            News media provided publicity, “If Sandy the whale were a real estate parcel, “she” would have “sold” signs from midriff to tail flukes[1] .” (from: PGPB Tribune, 04-28-82, ‘Whale sale no fluke’.)  Donations rolled in from groups: ACS, The Sierra Club, California Heritage Guides, schools and many others.  The Kiwanis raised money from a pancake breakfast.  Children decorated their classroom windows with “Save Sandy.”  One dedicated first grader paid a quarter per week on an installment plan towards their Sandy share.

            A whale thermometer painted on an outside wall of the museum helped supporters track progress.  Buttons added a visible source of income and people proudly wore their “Sandy Pacific Grove”, “I Love Sandy” buttons.  Slogans appeared on posters and signs.  When fear drifted in that the purchase couldn’t be pulled together, a new button was designed showing Sandy being hauled-off on a truck with a big slash,  appealing to fans losing their beloved whale! 

 “I think it was an early example of what is now called crowdfunding.  We didn’t have to convince people in the community to help … they were excited to step up and help – their enthusiasm was contagious.”  David Shonman

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            Dr. Donald Scanlon, chairman of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History Association, wrote a letter to the ACS in June, “…The board is very pleased with the progress being made. We are confident that with your help the sculpture will be purchased within the time period.”  The team went full bore 4th of July week with “Whale Days.”  Details are described in an article written by Paul Finnegan, ‘The Fund Raiser’, History News, January 1984.  The City Council passed a resolution and posters appeared everywhere asking for help.  Merchants decorated their store windows in nautical themes.  A ballon race featured ‘Flo’, a 28-foot hot air balloon shaped like a humpback whale.  The PG Art Center sponsored  ‘A Whale Drawing Contest’ for children.  Whale themed raffle prizes were donated.  John’s Drive-In on Forest Avenue continued collecting funds in a whale fund jar.  Local businesses contributed commissions and gave a percentage of their profits during “Whale of a Sale”.

            After a productive few months, the January1983 deadline seemed uncomfortably close. Vern recalls, “We needed about $8,000 more, so I contacted my fellow members of the Carmel Art Association and talked it over with them. They are a good crowd of people and all of them were willing to give a painting towards the auction.  Painters such as Gus Arriola, a nationally known cartoonist, Don Teague from the National Academy, and Keith Lindberg, just to name a few.”  Other artists heard the call and donated paintings and sculptures.  An August art auction and wine-tasting party was a huge success!

            Finally, Milos Radakovich was able to announce: “Sandy”, the 8,000-pound concrete whale now reclining in front of the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum, has been assured a permanent home on the Monterey Peninsula, in keeping with the wishes of its creator, artist Larry Foster of Alameda.  The community’s fund drive for $24,000 went over the top by $4,000 Friday evening when 200 people bid a total of $7,486 for artworks donated by 60 artists.  This last event is an example of the kind of community support this campaign has enjoyed from the outset, and I feel extremely proud to have been a part of it.“

“There are a great number of people to thank for the purchase of Sandy, but it sure helped having such a worthy cause.  I think it’s a tribute to art and science, and a great museum - the ninth oldest scientific institution on the West Coast… It's become a real icon of the museum and the community.”  Paul Finnegan

 “The one thing that ought to be realized in our quest for doing this — this was for the children of  Monterey County.”  Vern Yadon

           Sandy was purchased and it was time for a big celebration!  Invitations for a September party were sent to over 1,200 donors.  Confetti the Clown handed out balloons, there was music, food and big smiles.  Three hundred cheering children were surrounded by a supportive community and a dedicated, creative team.  After the museum expansion, the extra money from the auction was used for a concrete pad and relocation.  The campaign ended after eight months, raising over $31K from donors in 20 states and with most of the money coming from over 1,200 individual donations.  A dedication plaque was prominently placed as Sandy took center stage on Central Avenue in Pacific Grove.


           Flash forward to the 2018 gray whale winter migration.

“We are excited and honored not only to celebrate the 36th anniversary of Sandy the Whale on Jan. 27, but also to welcome and honor her creator, artist Larry Foster.  Larry will give a talk and answer some questions about our beloved Sandy, who provides inspiration to thousands of visitors and serves as an ambassador for education here at the Museum.”

            Jeanette Kihs, Executive Director of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History


“A big THANK YOU to Paul Finnegan, Milos Radakovich, David Shonman and Vern Yadon for your generous time, stories, jokes and the many resources you contributed in sharing Sandy’s Story.  Also, much appreciation to Larry and Mary Foster, staff at PGMNH and the PG Library, Marge Jameson and Cedar Street Times, friend Ethelyne and many more who have witnessed my obsession with this special cetacean we know as Sandy.” ~ Elayne Azevedo

Paul Finnegan, Milos Radakovich and David Shonman - Whale Fund Campaign Team

Paul Finnegan, Milos Radakovich and David Shonman - Whale Fund Campaign Team

Vern Yadon - Museum Director and Curator Emeritus

Vern Yadon - Museum Director and Curator Emeritus


“It seemed leviathan in nature when it was suggested last January that funds be raised to keep Sandy the gray whale in Pacific Grove. But, true to the best qualities of a community, the residents of PG banded together like so many whales in a pod and gave Sandy a permanent home on the grounds of the Natural History Museum.  So congratulations PG! We’ve got ourselves a permanent reminder that through a common effort we can take on the most Leviathan of projects, even though the ne’er-do-whales said it could never be done.”

~ Editor’s note, Pacific Grove Pebble Beach Tribune, 08-18-82


(from: “PGPB Tribune”, 04-28-82, ‘Whale sale no fluke’)

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