|The University of New Mexico|
A Publication of
of New Mexico
By Jennifer K. Roberts
Well, if you presumed that you saw Dr. Livingston on the UNM campus, you were mistaken, but not by much. You probably spotted UNM's very own explorer, adventurer, professor emeritus and author, Dr. Frank C. Hibben. A world-renowned archaeologist/anthropologist, Hibben has seen it all, and his office attests to this with the abundant signs of his adventures -- hunting and fishing trophies, plaques and artifacts -- that speak of his accomplishments.
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1910, Hibben says he always knew that he wanted to be an archaeologist when he grew up. A precocious child, he could read a book in a day and often did. When he was 10 years old, Hibben's aunts found him a summer job as the water boy for the Ohio State Museum's excavating crew. Young Hibben showed such an interest that he was even able to join in on the dig. "I got paid $10 a week, and continued working there for the next several summers," says Hibben.
Through the hardships of the Great Depression, Hibben's parents managed to send him to college. "It was a tremendous effort, but they put me through all of the best schools," says Hibben. "Father was a wise man. I had marvelous parents. He told me that I would starve to death if I became a professor of archaeology."
When the time came to leave for college, Hibben had his mind set on earning his degree from Harvard University, which had the best archaeology program at the time, and was digging at Tecal, Mexico, in Piedras Negras. Harvard accepted him, but Hibben says, "I was told [by my family] that I could go to any college I liked, as long as it was Princeton." His uncle was the president of Princeton University, where Hibben did attend and received his bachelor of arts degree in archaeology.
Hibben came to the University of New Mexico to teach archaeology while earning his master's degree in zoology, for which he studied the mountain lions of California, New Mexico, Texas and Utah. According to Hibben, his equipment for this research project consisted of "a pick-up, a horse trailer and a horse." Even though he spent most of his time studying mountain lion feces, Hibben says that he loved the Southwest.
With his work at UNM completed, Hibben welcomed the opportunity to enter Harvard's Ph.D. program in archaeology. Jack Campbell, former director of the Maxwell Museum and friend to Hibben for 50 years, says, "I was told years ago by a friend at Harvard that in all of the history of Harvard's Anthropology Department, Frank is the only student to earn a Ph.D. in one year." Reflecting on this remarkable accomplishment, Hibben says, "I had to do it in one year. If I didn¹t come back to UNM in a year, I lost my job."
Like most archaeologists, Hibben is committed to preservation, conservation and education. However, he stands out from the rest through his long list of accomplishments and his dedication to his philanthropy, his field and his students. "Frank Hibben taught class in a lecture hall that held 525 students. Frank taught at 8 a.m. and every seat was filled for every class, every semester," says Campbell. Even now, at the age of 90, Hibben continues to teach through the University's Continuing Education Program. His classes are still popular and fill up as quickly as ever.
In 1932, Hibben became the founding director of the Maxwell Museum. The first exhibit at the museum featured some of the earliest Navajo rugs known. The rugs were courtesy of Gill Maxwell, for whom the museum was named. Over the next few years, artifacts brought back from digs by the UNM field school supplemented the Maxwell collection. "We dug at Chaco Canyon for 18 years, since we had the field school there, and we have perpetual digging rights. The dig at Chaco produced a tremendous amount of stuff," says Hibben. Finding that they had too much "stuff" for the storage and display spaces owned by the University, Hibben and his wife came up with a solution: they donated their home.
Maxwell Museum of Anthropology Director Dr. Garth Bawden says, "Dr. Hibben has been a very significant donor. He has donated a major part of his own personal collections in all areas of anthropology. He has been a major contributor to the Maxwell Museum's cultural collections, including many prominent collections from Chaco Canyon, Pottery Mound and elsewhere." Through his donations of ethnographic, photographic, archaeological and archival material to the Maxwell, Hibben has expanded the Anthropology Department's research and educational capabilities. In 1996, he and his late wife, Eleanor (Brownie), gifted the University with the deed to their residence to be used as the future site of the Hibben Research Center.
While their home will still be a gift to the University, the house is not practical for office and laboratory space, so Hibben has decided to build a new structure for the University, from the ground up. On the evening of Feb. 15, in a grand salute to his work, teaching, research and gifts, the UNM Foundation held a dinner for Hibben. The dinner was a celebration of his impact on UNM's past, present and the future with the construction of the new archaeology building, the Hibben Center. Scheduled for completion in 2002, this new building will be home to collections from Pottery Mound, a graduate research center and the Hibben Trust. Located on the west side of campus, just south of the Maxwell Museum, the three-story building will be designed by award winning New Mexico architect Patrick McClernon.
Having been a student himself, Hibben recalls how it feels to struggle with workloads and finances and wants to help graduate students as much as he can. To give students top-notch facilities and financial help for their studies, Hibben established the Hibben Trust, making annual grants available to graduate students who are conducting field research in archaeology. Still researching, teaching and maintaining office hours, when asked what keeps him in the classroom, Hibben's answer is simply, "People." Undoubtedly his daily interactions with students and his ongoing work help him maintain his youthful appearance. "I think that I am the oldest professor here, by far. I don't consider myself a professor emeritus, because I am still at it.. I'm still a student. I enjoy keeping up with new information, and I can identify with the students," says Hibben.
Alberto Gutiérrez, president of the geosciences consulting firm Geolex, was a UNM student when he met Hibben 15 years ago. "It never ceases to amaze me that in addition to all of the research and fieldwork that he does... he was also a fantastic teacher, and continues doing it," says Gutiérrez. "It is amazing; you can still see that gleam in his eye when he teaches, works or talks about his research."
© 2006 The University of New Mexico.