Raymond Manfred Alf’s lifetime dedication to teaching and the study of paleontology was a great influence on students of The Webb Schools. His extraordinary energy and inspirational teaching became a fundamental element of the school’s program, where he helped build a supportive learning environment that emphasized honor, leadership, service, spiritual growth, and academic excellence.
Born in Canton, China in 1905 to missionary parents, Alf relocated to the United States in 1917. He attended Doane College where he distinguished himself as a world class sprinter, almost making the U.S. Olympic team in both 1928 and 1932. In 1974, he was named to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for his running prowess.
Alf joined the faculty of Webb School of California in 1929. At first he taught math, later both biology and math. In 1930 Alf married his wife of 60 years, fellow Webb teacher Pearl Wright.
The late ’30s saw a pivotal moment in Webb’s history. In 1937, Alf took his class, including Bill Webb ’39 son of school founder Thompson Webb, on a camping trip to Barstow, CA.
Bored with the entire experience, Webb spotted an eroded hillside he thought would make a terrific slide. Halfway down he hooked and tore his pants on a sharp protruding object. Climbing back to the spot, Webb found a bone sticking out from the ground. After clearing away some dirt, he uncovered teeth and eventually a small skull.
Webb and Alf excavated the skull and took it to a paleontologist at the California Institute of Technology. The find turned out to be a new species of fossil pig, or peccary. That find inspired a passion in Webb students that led to regular fossil trips and more finds. As the adventures and acquisitions grew in size, Alf and his students created a small museum in the basement of Jackson Library. In 1968 the “museum” was given its own campus building, designed by renowned California artist Millard Sheets and dedicated to Alf.
Alf retired from teaching in 1974, but continued to conduct tours of the museum well into the 1990s.
Today, in addition to being the only accredited museum in the country on a secondary school campus, the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology has grown to include over 80,000 specimens. It is also home to one of the premier collections of fossil footprints in the world, a dinosaur egg and a recently-discovered rhinoceros skull, as well as the original peccary skull that started it almost 70 years ago. The museum provides Webb students with a unique opportunity to learn about earth science, museum studies and the value of research. With more than 10,000 visitors annually, the museum also serves as an educational resource to local schools and colleges, as well as working paleontologists.