Like the broader world it celebrates, the Robert A. Hefner Museum of Natural History has evolved over time. It began as a collection of zoological specimens, fossils, and natural history artifacts in the first half of the twentieth century. Under the guidance of Robert A. Hefner, it grew into the Hefner Zoology Museum. We take up the story of the museum's evolution below, with an excerpt from Dr. Hefner's 1962 report.
"I came to Miami in 1925 as the second full-time member of the Zoology staff, a half-time instructor having preceded me. We had one-half of the second floor of Brice [Note: this hall no longer exists] and a comparative anatomy laboratory in the basement. Geology shared this floor with us and Botany and Physics were assigned to the first floor and some basement space. Zoology and Geology had a common museum room in the middle of our floor space and demonstration materials were freely exchanged. My office was in one end of the museum room and wide open to general traffic since locks were an unknown luxury in almost all rooms of Brice. The exception was to be found in a small storeroom in the basement. This place wore a heavy padlock and behind its sturdy door our supplies of alcohol reposed in drums and carboys.
"In 1928 Botany and Physics moved to Irvin Hall and Geology took over the first floor of Brice with Zoology spreading over the second floor. The basement rooms were divided with Geology taking over the west end and Zoology adding the east section to the central comparative room already occupied. The Geology museum material was moved to the first floor, after supporting girders had been installed, and Zoology took over the space of the former combined museum. Our meager supply of exhibits and demonstrations did not begin to occupy this space and a small classroom was partitioned off from the west end. Materials from the Hawes' Estate increased our holdings in 1938 but the ensuing decade included the lean war years and it was a rather restricted lot of museum materials that we moved to Upham Hall in 1951."
After the move to Upham Hall, Doc Hefner, as he was affectionately known, directed the young museum for more than three decades. He trained dozens of students in the areas of museum management, exhibit creation, specimen collection and care, education, and taxidermy. In addition to his achievements at the university, Doc Hefner also was instrumental in establishing Hueston Woods State Park and Oxford's Silvoor Biological Sanctuary. He left an enduring legacy in our region.
In 1985, Dr. Paul Daniel, also of the zoology department, succeeded Doc Hefner as museum director. Dr. Daniel and his wife, Lois, were tireless educators and incomparable naturalists. The Daniels meticulously cared for the collections, created a comprehensive database of the museum’s specimens, developed new exhibits, and taught thousands of people—from university students to area youngsters—about animals. Paul oversaw the addition of the Dick Francis collection and the creation of the gallery now known as Hoofs, Horns, Antlers & Claws. He also contributed many specimens (collected on field trips) to the museum’s collections, to be used for teaching and research; only Doc Hefner, Paul’s mentor, contributed more. The Daniels’ work built the solid foundation upon which the museum now rests. Dr. Daniel retired as museum director in the early 1990s, but he remained a much beloved figure and a Miami institution. In his honor, the museum's classroom, 106 Upham, was renamed the Paul Daniel Classroom in 1993.
Dr. Donald Kaufman was named museum director in 2001. Dr. Kaufman brought a new energy and vision to the museum. He secured funding to complete an extensive renovation of the Main Gallery, which reopened in October, 2002, and to create both the Imaginarium (opened in 2005) and the Mollusc Gallery (opened in 2011). In 2012, the museum's name was changed to the Robert A. Hefner Museum of Natural History, to better reflect both its expanding collections (which include both plant and fungi specimens) and its founder's broad interests in the natural world. Under Dr. Kaufman's leadership, the museum significantly increased both its service to undergraduates and its outreach to schools and the general public.
In 2016, a new director started at the helm of the Hefner Museum, Steve Sullivan, from the Chicago Academy of Sciences and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. His work expands upon the museum's mission of environmental education to help the public establish an authentic connection to the natural world around them. A delicate balance of human and nonhuman interractions resides within an ecosystem and that interconnectedness is a central theme throughout the museum.
The Robert A. Hefner Museum of Natural History harkens back to an earlier era. Antique display cases, wood cabinetry, earth-toned interiors, and subtle lighting create the feel of an old-time museum. Visitors of all ages delight in exhibits that showcase intriguing collections, striking photographs and graphics, and related children's literature. Many visitors have called the Hefner "warm and inviting" and "a surprise treasure among small museums." We invite you to spend some time with us and hope that by visit's end, you'll readily agree.