The Wilbur W. Mayhew Endowed Chair in Geo-Ecology
It was Wilbur W. Mayhew at UC Riverside, and his colleague Ken Norris at UCLA who, in the 1950’s, were the driving forces behind creation of the Natural Reserve System, thus providing generations of scientists and students vast tracts of unspoiled natural resources for field studies. The EDGE Institute will be led by the recently established Wilbur W. Mayhew Chair in Geo-Ecology to guide the institute in researching the global environmental change and crises the world is facing today. This chair, endowed by an anonymous donor, honors Bill Mayhew’s pioneering work.
Wilbur W. Mayhew, architect of California’s Natural Reserve System
Wilbur Waldo Mayhew, Professor Emeritus of Biology, was born in Yoder, Colorado, on March 17, 1920. His parents moved the family to a ranch in Turlock, California, when he was a year old. As a child he was known as “Bugs” because of his interest in butterflies and ants. “I’ve always been interested in animals,” he said.
Dr. Mayhew received an A.A. in science from Modesto Junior College in 1940, and then joined the Air Force. During World War II, he saw action throughout the world, serving as a gunner in B-17s and B-24s. After being wounded, he returned to the U.S. and trained other gunners. It was this experience, he says, that showed him how much he enjoyed teaching. After the war he enrolled at UC Berkeley, receiving an A.B. in 1948, an M.A. in 1951, and a Ph.D. in 1953, all in zoology.
Dr. Mayhew was hired at the fledgling Riverside campus in the summer of 1954. One of the courses he taught was field biology, and he took his students on field trips, averaging about a thousand miles a semester. “I was trying to teach them the habitats in which animals live and how the animals were able to develop and successfully live in those habitats,” he said. California in the 1950s was booming, and the growth began to affect Dr. Mayhew’s ability to teach. “On these field trips,” he said, “I would go out to various locations [with] the students. The next year I would go out and a house or a subdivision had been built there.” He commiserated with his colleague at UCLA, Ken Norris, who also taught a field course. Together, he said, “we had to have some places where we would be able to go back time and time again.”
In 1958 UCR acquired the first tract of what would become the Natural Reserve System. Boyd Deep Canyon Reserve was the gift of Philip Boyd, the first mayor of the City of Palm Springs; today it comprises 16,873 acres. In 1964 Herman Spieth, then UCR’s provost, bought 160 acres in the Box Springs Mountains for $400. These were among the seven original reserves when, in 1965, the Regents approved Norris’s plan and established the University of California Natural Reserve System.
Dr. Wilbur Mayhew spent the next 25 years tirelessly advocating for the reserves; from 1969 to 1990 he served as director of the UCR-administered tracts. After the dedication of the James Reserve in 1976, Chancellor Ivan Hinderaker wrote to Dr. Mayhew, “A very great deal of what was symbolized in the dedication . . . has flowed, directly or indirectly, from your efforts.” In 1993, four years after his retirement, the residential housing facility at the Boyd Deep Canyon Research Center was named for him. The director of the statewide system, Deborah Elliott-Fisk, wrote, “With Ken Norris and Mildred Mathias [professor of botany at UCLA], you played a lead role in establishing the NRS. You were also the force behind acquisition of many of the reserves for Riverside. In addition, you were a professor who inspired many students to become outstanding, responsible field scientists.”
Bill Mayhew retired from teaching in 1989 and from the Natural Reserve directorship in 1990. He continued to live in Riverside with his wife, Corinne, until he passed away on September 19, 2014. The University of California, Riverside, continues to regard him with gratitude and esteem—as former dean Irwin Sherman wrote—“for his outstanding service to Biology and [to the] students of the next century. . . .He is one of a kind.”
Oral History and Tribute to Professor Mayhew