Ten years ago, Mike Kwasnik gave the Orlando Science Center a relatively minor exhibit to display. The science center isn't using it anymore, so he wants it back. There's one problem: The science center has no idea where it is. Not only that, it says locating the nest isn't the center's responsibility. In other words, tough luck.
The exhibit in question — a bald-faced hornet's nest mounted on a wood frame — isn't worth much, at least monetarily. When Kwasnik donated it in 1997, he told the science center it was worth $100. But to Kwasnik, it has enormous sentimental value: His father, who cut the nest down and crafted the exhibit, died in 2003. Originally, Kwasnik wanted to put a plaque he made commemorating his father on the exhibit. But when he looked for the display, it wasn't there. Now he just wants to find out where it is and get it back as a way to remember his dad.
Kwasnik was working as an OSC security guard when he donated the hornet's nest. In January 1997, both he and a science center official signed a donation form. The science center later issued him a letter saying the exhibit was worth a $100 tax deduction (which he says he never claimed). As far as the science center was concerned, the hornet's nest was a gift. In fact, the donation form Kwasnik signed says right at the top, "Donations are accepted only as unconditional gifts to be used for the benefit of OSC in whatever manner OSC deems appropriate."
When Kwasnik demanded that they find his father's hornet's nest, the science center responded in writing. "In review of the documentation you provided the Orlando Science Center it is apparent the bald-faced hornet's nest mentioned was not a loaned item but actually a contribution," customer service director Debra Gordon wrote in September 2006. "So there is a clear understanding, when the bald-faced hornet's nest was donated and a contribution letter sent, the Orlando Science Center became the sole proprietor of the property."
They did offer to hang Kwasnik's plaque anyway.
Kwasnik wants much more than that. In October, he told the science center that he wants the exhibit back. And since he has to search for it, he wants the science center to pay him money; $10,000, to be exact. "I just cannot go to Wal-Mart and buy another one," he wrote.
The science center isn't paying. Kwasnik considered going to small-claims court, but can't find a lawyer to help him out. (He thinks the science center is such a political force that no one wants to take it on.) He asked the science center to settle the matter via an appearance on a daytime television judge show. It refused. He contacted local television stations, but as yet none has run his story, perhaps because he doesn't have any pictures of the exhibit in question. Now, he says, he's planning to protest on the sidewalk in an attempt to shame the science center into finding his nest.
He may have a claim for its return. The form he signed turning over the exhibit to OSC states, "If the object is to be accessioned into the permanent collection, and the time comes when OSC has no further use for the object, the donor will be contacted for possible return of the object."
A handwritten note on the back of the form, which Kwasnik scribbled on, adds, "If OSC is no longer interested in the nest, OSC will contact the original owner and return it to the original owner."
But that never happened, even though Kwasnik says he kept the science center updated when he moved. More importantly, Kwasnik says that no one will tell him where the exhibit is now. He thinks the science center either sold it or loaned it to another museum.
"I can assure you that there's no grand conspiracy on the part of the science center," spokesman Jeff Stanford says.
In all likelihood, he and chief operating officer JoAnn Newman say, the hornet's nest was simply thrown out. It is, after all, organic material and wouldn't last indefinitely. Also, since it was such a minor donation — the science center has several other hornet's nests — and given so long ago, current employees don't remember it, much less know where it went.
Newman says she's offered Kwasnik one of the other nests, or to put a plaque on the wall honoring his father, but he's refused.
"It's kind of a shame," she firstname.lastname@example.org
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