Alf Museum Director Transitions to Emeritus & New Director Appointed
After nearly 30 years with Webb, Don Lofgren, Ph.D., director of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology will leave his position and transition to director emeritus on July 1, 2021. In his new role next year, Lofgren will continue to teach, conduct research, and provide counsel to museum staff. Andrew Farke, Ph.D., currently the Augustyn Family Curator, director of research and collections at the Alf Museum, has been appointed the new director, only the fourth individual to hold this position since the museum’s founding in the late 1930s.
Lofgren’s contributions to The Webb Schools and the Alf Museum are both wide and deep. His leadership of the museum over the last three decades has led to its growth, and increased excellence in every area: scientific research, co-authored student research, community outreach, exhibits design, fundraising, national and international reputation, professional staffing and much more. At the same time, as a member of The Webb Schools’ senior leadership team, Lofgren has shown himself to be a master teacher, student mentor and advisor, Honor Committee advisor and more—known and admired by alumni, parents, faculty and staff. Perhaps his greatest single accomplishment as director will be remembered as leading the Alf Museum to its first national accreditation.
“Gaining national accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 1998 was incredibly difficult with such a small staff and limited funds. It took seven years to get there. Museum programs and operations and facilities all needed improvement, and at the time the collections were only partially curated. It was a massive job that had to be completed in small segments. Even when we got initial accreditation, the recommendation was to renovate our display halls and increase our public outreach efforts. We’ve now done that and were re-accredited in 2010,” Lofgren explains.
As he prepares to take on his new role as museum director, Farke appreciates the legacy he joins—a through line running from Ray Alf, to Grant Meyer ’53, to Don Lofgren, to him.
“One of Don’s greatest strengths—something he shares with Ray Alf, I think—is long-term vision. When Don arrived on campus, he didn’t see the museum as it was—he saw what it could be. And, he knew that it might take decades to get there. Don has amazing organizational skills as well as the patience of a saint, both of which were critical character traits to his success. We have gorgeous, up-to-date exhibit halls, and a vibrant educational program for Webb students as well as the broader public. Our collection space and lab facilities are top-notch. The staff is not just larger than it’s ever been, but also the best it has ever been, from top to bottom. This didn’t happen just because of how awesome Don is, though. It happened because, in his own very understated way, he got so many other people to get excited about the legacy, the potential, and the importance of the Alf Museum,” Farke says.
At many museums and cultural institutions across the country, directors rarely find time to continue their own research programs. Senior leadership of this magnitude both taxes the stamina and requires a laser focus. In the end, many just find it easier to let it go. Lofgren, we can agree, doesn’t lean into easier. Farke explains.
“Don is one of those unusual scientists whose individual research productivity increased during the latter part of his career. His work on some of the oldest fossil mammals in California is a major contribution, and his collaborations looking into mammalian evolution across western North America are a long-term scientific achievement. It goes beyond the published papers, though. The collection he built is a major legacy, one that will have an impact for years to come,” Farke says.
In Lofgren’s case, such a long tenure leading a museum is rare enough, but to find, hire, and support your successor over the course of 12 years is something else all together. Lofgren is thankful.
“Andy is extremely intelligent and ambitious and brings a host of talents to the table. Besides being an excellent teacher and role model for Webb students, he’s had a major positive impact on all operations and programs at the museum. Also, he’s internationally known for his paleontological expertise and research. Andy will be a terrific director and take the museum to even greater success in educational and scientific endeavors,” Lofgren says.
Alf Museum Trustee Gretchen Augustyn, after over 40 years of her own dedicated service and leadership devoted to Webb and the museum, knows well the good fortune and good work Ray Alf, Don Lofgren and Andy Farke represent.
“I have been involved with the Alf Museum since about 1977. I was lucky to get to know Ray Alf and Mrs. Alf in their later years. When Don came on board to become the director, I felt it was a perfect match. I know Ray enjoyed all of the time he spent with Don in those early years. Next came Andy Farke, again I felt it was a perfect match. Andy was named the Augustyn Family Curator of the Alf Museum. I have always felt that Don and Andy complement each other and are a dynamic team. And now, Andy will become the 4th Director of the Alf Museum and Don will become director emeritus…yet another perfect match. We are very lucky to have these two men as leaders of our ‘Little Museum on the Hill’,” says Augustyn.
Alumni from many eras appreciate Lofgren’s steady leadership, but those who knew Ray Alf well, also speak of the kindness and care he showed the museum founder. Ken De Nault ’61, in a letter to Lofgren in 2016, echoed this sentiment and added to it, “You should not forget to write a book on your contributions to the museum, particularly how you have been so adroitly able to capture Ray’s enthusiasm and vision and blend these so harmoniously with your vision and goals. It is truly inspirational and would be a great guide for others who are faced with embarking on similar assignments, namely, having to work in the shadow of an influential founder whose followers are fiercely loyal and still manage to bring your vision and goals to fruition.”
As Lofgren prepares for his transition to director emeritus and Farke plans to take on the directorship in July, Chairman of the Board Larry Ashton ’70 could not be more pleased.
“Seeing the respect and love that former students have for Don is truly moving. The legacy that he will leave is monumental and would make Ray Alf shout from the rooftops ‘Laudate Deum. Good Boy!’ Under Don’s leadership, and with the tremendous support of the museum board, Webb, donors, volunteers and others—never in our history has so much been accomplished to elevate the status of the Alf Museum on campus and in the scientific world,” Ashton says.
And for Ashton, Farke, too, represents that special combination of human being, educator, scientist and visionary the Alf Museum has been so fortunate to attract over these many years.
“Andy Farke is a born teacher and someone who inspires others to do their best in the field and the classroom. He is someone who truly cares about the success of his students. He loves his job, his boss, the board and staff. He is known for his big smile, too. He is respected and admired by us all,” Ashton says, and continues, “Every new museum director brings their own list of ideas, goals and objectives. Andy has the right mix of these, and the staff to take the Alf Museum to the next level. He is only the fourth director in 80-plus years, which says a lot about the Alf. We all look forward to his long tenure.”
In his own right, as the incoming museum director, Farke is excited about the opportunities and challenges ahead.
“Thanks to the visionary work by Don Lofgren, in partnership with an engaged board, innovative and dedicated staff, and a whole Peccary Family from Webb students to alumni to friends of the museum new and old, the Alf Museum is on an incredibly solid footing. It means that we can all start to dream about the next steps in our journey as an institution. One priority for me is finding new ways to engage Webb students, ensuring that every student who wants to can chart a peccary
experience that is personal, rigorous, and hands-on. A second priority is to continue our positive momentum with the museum collection and its care,” Farke goes on, “I’m excited by some of the budding partnerships developed by the outreach and collections staff, which really challenge past assumptions about what a museum is, what a museum should be, and who the “typical” museum visitor might be.”
Lofgren, too, glancing back at his tenure is filled with pride working alongside the museum’s board of trustees, “…an amazingly dedicated, powerful and dynamic group.” And proud of the museum’s educational partnership with Webb, growing the paleontology program from a single class into an amazing four-year program.
“I was lucky to find my way to Webb in 1991. I had never heard of Webb or the Alf Museum when I applied. Now I have spent my entire professional career here. It was long and difficult struggle at times, but now things are really great and I feel good about that. More importantly, The Webb community is full of quality people and I’m proud to call many of them my friends and colleagues; trustees, parents, alumni (including my former students), and faculty & staff,” Lofgren admits.
Asked about Don Lofgren’s long and storied career at Webb and Andy Farke’s appointment, Head of School Taylor Stockdale could not be more proud of these partnerships or excited about what the future holds for Webb and the Alf Museum. He is also grateful to the Museum Succession Planning Committee assembled last spring, which included the Head of School, Larry Ashton ’70, Sanjay Dholakia ’87, Gretchen Augustyn, Monica Atiyeh Whittaker ’96, and Pat Muffler ’54.
“Don Lofgren is a legend, plain and simple. He’s a nationally and internationally regarded paleontologist, a museum director, educator and teacher, and among the best mentors, friends and fathers anyone could hope for. Working in partnership with Don over the last 30 years has been one of the distinct honors of my career. He leaves the museum stronger, with more capacity for seizing new opportunities than ever before. Without a doubt, Andy Farke is the educator and leader we need to carry this legacy of success into the future,” Stockdale says.
In recognition of Don Lofgren’s long career and remarkable devotion to Webb and the Alf Museum, alumnus Ken De Nault ’61 has established and endowed the Donald L. Lofgren Director’s Chair at the Alf Museum. For more information about how you can join in with your support, please contact Bob Fass at firstname.lastname@example.org.