Looking at old, grainy photographs, it was easy to tell Jennifer Dutcher was a descendant of her great great great grandfather, Donald. Both were stocky and even though 1870s black and white photography could not show hair color, the light grey hair in Donald’s picture matched Jennifer’s light brown hair. Looking closely, she recognized that look in Donald’s eyes across time. It revealed the stubborn streak she inherited that drove Donald’s gold prospecting fiasco and almost killed him.
Donald never made it to the history books because he never found any real gold. He came close one time when he uncovered a vein of pale brass-yellow colored material while exploring a cave on some land he homesteaded. He should have picked up a sample and brought it into town for examination. But he didn’t. Not wanting to reveal his secret, which would surely attract potential poachers, he bought several dynamite sticks and rented a team of horses and a wagon to extract the minerals from that cave.
The story became legend in the Dutcher family. Donald was hardly a dynamite expert – or expert with anything else – and almost blew himself to smithereens. But he eventually found ways to tunnel under and around that vein and managed to extract almost two tons of material from that cave without collapsing the whole mountain on top of himself. With nothing but his bare hands, he loaded it all in the wagon and hauled it back to town over the makeshift road he painstakingly cut.
It was worth the trouble, he thought. He would be rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and people near and far would marvel at the exploits of Donald Dutcher. With his haul safely registered in the Assayer’s office, Donald headed to the local saloon to buy everyone a drink and celebrate his success. And that was where Mr. Philby from the Assayer’s office found him a few hours later, passed out drunk at a poker table with not one dime of cash left in his pocket, while everyone in the saloon toasted his success and drank up the whiskey Donald promised to pay for.
Mr. Philby had bad news. It was fool’s gold. Every last ounce. All fool’s gold. All worthless.
It didn’t take the saloon patrons long to figure out why Mr. Philby was visiting. They eventually tossed Donald out the door, where he landed on his backside in a pile of horse manure. He spent the rest of the night that way, passed out in a drunken stupor, and woke up the next morning with the worst hangover of his life and a smell that would never wash from his clothes.
He spent the next 10 years paying off debts from his fool’s gold fiasco. Although he failed as a gold prospector, he learned some tough lessons about character and eventually married and raised a family. He never drank another drop of alcohol.
Jennifer Dutcher believed her great great great grandfather would be proud of her in this century, prospecting for students and dedicating her life to making the Fools Gold Academy Charter School of Science and Mineralogy work. The school was on the outskirts of Santa Fe, New Mexico, close enough to Donald’s old fools’ gold cave that she could organize occasional field trips to the site as funding allowed.
Jennifer knew her school needed cutting edge technology – but it also needed teachers and a building and after paying for these necessities, precious little was left for any technology. Even if money were available, she lacked the expertise to figure out how best to spend it. Fortunately, a few well-meaning parents stepped in to help. Unfortunately, they lacked the skills to do it right.