The UC Davis Library recently acquired the collection of personal papers and memorabilia from the late Chancellor Emeritus Larry N. Vanderhoef — a man who served in prominent leadership roles during some of the most pivotal years in UC Davis’ history.
Vanderhoef, a soft-spoken administrator whose management mantra was “listen, listen, listen,” led UC Davis for 25 years — first as provost/executive vice chancellor from 1984 to 1994 and then as chancellor from 1994 to 2009. In fall 2017, campus administration transferred his papers to the library’s University Archives, ensuring the preservation of a quarter-century of UC Davis history, which many consider to be the period of the university’s greatest physical and academic growth.
A historical and humanizing record
The collection, which will be celebrated at an event at Shields Library on Wednesday, October 18, includes Vanderhoef’s personal writings, correspondence, speeches, resource files, photographs, videos and keepsakes.
University Archivist Kevin Miller says the collection is significant for everyone in the UC Davis community, even those who may not have known Vanderhoef, because it provides a behind-the-scenes look into leadership at UC Davis across the decades and into Vanderhoef as a person.
“It’s an in-depth collection that reveals the Chancellorship and the person behind the Chancellorship. It documents some of the most important historical events that occurred in the last several decades at UC Davis,” Miller said. “At the same time, it shows how Vanderhoef humanized the role of being chancellor and how he did it in his own way.”
A uniquely Davis collection
Among Vanderhoef’s papers now at the library are:
- Personal correspondence (much handwritten) from 1970 to 2015, from his early days as a University of Illinois assistant professor to his last email exchange one week before his death;
- Correspondence with other influential people in UC Davis history such as Robert and Margrit Mondavi, Chancellor James Meyer and Pulitzer Prize-winning UC Davis professor Gary Snyder;
- Notes from Vanderhoef’s 1994 inaugural speech as Chancellor in which he declared the campus would build a Center for the Arts, including a performance hall, recital hall and art museum — setting a vision that has been realized with the Mondavi Center, Pitzer Center and Manetti Shrem Museum of Art;
- Early chapter drafts, including for unfinished chapters, from his book, Indelibly Davis: A Quarter-Century of UC Davis Stories…and Backstories;
- Materials on topics such as the impact of no-confidence votes, the transition from Division II to Division I athletics, the tragic Sea of Cortez boating accident, the transformation of an old county hospital into a top-flight academic medical center, and the regents’ contentious 1995 affirmative action decision;
- A 1996 audio recording of his discussion with protesting students gathered in the Chancellor’s Office lobby;
- His handwritten journal from his controversial 2004 trip to Iran to reestablish academic ties;
- His personal reply in 1987 to first-grade students who had expressed concern over the construction of a parking lot that they feared would impact owl habitat;
- Course files for the biology course for nonscientists that he developed and taught at UC Davis and in Taiwan as chancellor emeritus;
- A fortune cookie message from 1984, the year he came to UC Davis, that said “You will make change for the better”;
- Dozens of campus-related, campaign-style buttons featuring everything from the UC Davis Centennial and Unitrans to Thank Goodness For Staff days and the Band-Uh;
- A 1984 Christmas list where he asked for a blue necktie “similar to the brown one I got last year” and two dozen #2 pencils “that are to be all my own”;
- Crossword puzzles, including one he created in 1993 using clues pertaining to the UC campuses; and
- Doodles he drew on meeting agendas.
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Vanderhoef’s archivist eye
A plant biologist by training, Vanderhoef had an archivist’s appreciation of history, says Associate Chancellor Emerita Maril Stratton, who worked closely with Vanderhoef for nearly 30 years and helped assemble and catalogue the collection with Cindy Contreras, Vanderhoef’s executive assistant for 25 years.
He kept organized, detailed files, they say, with his decades of personal correspondence a particularly insightful piece of this collection.
“Those early letters reveal his maturation as an academic and as an administrator, and what remains consistent throughout is his warmth and gentle humor,” Stratton said.
Preserving Aggie history
Both Stratton and Miller agree that there is something for everyone in the Vanderhoef collection because of his lasting imprint on the history and culture of UC Davis.
“It’s a piece of our family history that some members of our UC Davis family may not know now, but it can only enrich their experience of this campus,” Stratton said. “You don’t have to look too far or too deeply to see Larry’s imprint. You can see it in some of the physical places, in the campus’s caring culture and the Aggie Spirit.”
According to Miller, bringing this collection to the library underscores the library’s important role in preserving campus history.
“The UC Davis Library, specifically the University Archives, is the only place on campus where these important university memories can be housed,” Miller said. “We can be the primary source for the original records, both physical and digital, that provide evidence of those activities that are part of our shared history. That is an important service the library provides to the campus.”
Stratton thinks Vanderhoef would be pleased to see his collection go to the library.
“He had modestly hoped for just two copies of his book on a shelf at Shields,” Stratton said. “And now the library has welcomed his 40 archival boxes. He’d be over-the-moon happy — and so pleased that his collection might add to a greater understanding of the campus he loved.”
To request access to items in the collection, please contact Special Collections (email@example.com) at least seven days in advance of your research visit.
All images © Special Collections/UC Davis Library