Lake Erie Nature & Science Center celebrates 75th anniversary

Elberta Fleming, founder of Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.

The curiosity of a child inspired Elberta Fleming to create a nature center for children. While working at the front desk of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, a young boy approached her to ask about the butterfly in his hand. This serendipitous moment sparked an awe-inspiring conversation for the child and demonstrated to Elberta the power of discovery through hands-on learning.

In 1945, Elberta founded a “Junior Museum” in her home in Bay Village with a display of animals in her backyard, nature specimens throughout her home and a compelling vision to teach nature and science to people in the community. As a mother, artist and environmental advocate, her vision fueled the early formation of Lake Erie Nature & Science Center from modest beginnings.

Supporting Elberta were dedicated community volunteers who understood and shared her vision. The Women’s Board was founded by a group of six friends who assisted her and the growing museum through service, community awareness and fundraising. In 1950, Elberta and her volunteers began to present programs out of the Bay Village Library, and then approved Articles of Incorporation which gained national attention as one of the first nonprofit children’s museums in the country.

By 1960, Lake Erie Nature & Science Center attracted a large constituency and raised funds to create a permanent home on Huntington Reservation. Wildlife exhibits and nature walks through forests and meadows created an outdoor classroom for children to build lasting connections with the natural world. A space science program emerged in 1968 when community leaders and the local school district built the Center’s planetarium, introducing children to the wonders of the night sky and beyond. Elberta retired in 1977 after fulfilling her dream and impacting thousands of lives.

Today, Lake Erie Nature & Science Center honors Elberta’s vision by continuing to offer free admission to indoor and outdoor exhibits, operating one of two public access planetariums in Cuyahoga County, providing wildlife rehabilitation services at no charge to the public and educating thousands of people each year through nature-based programming for all ages. Four generations of children, families, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have come to the Center for timeless lessons and treasured traditions.

 “Connecting children with nature is more important now than ever and is the heart of our mission at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center,” says Executive Director Catherine Timko. “As we reflect on the Center’s 75-year history, we look forward to the next 75 years of educating and inspiring children and families to understand, appreciate and take responsibility for our natural world. Children’s curiosity about nature has only grown stronger and so has the Center’s dedication to encouraging their curiosity with memorable experiences.”

Join Lake Erie Nature & Science Center in celebrating its 75th anniversary with special events throughout the year. Past visitors and “alumni” are encouraged to share their memories by joining the Center’s 75th Anniversary Alumni group on Facebook. To learn more about anniversary celebrations, visit

Morgan Paskert

Morgan Paskert is on staff at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 9:51 AM, 01.21.2020