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Sharing a passion, Zuhls leave lasting legacy

Walk into Zuhl Library and the eye-catching, vibrant geological specimens on display are likely to grab your attention.

"The geological specimens add a different dynamic to the environment that you don’t typically think of. It expands the mind and expands the horizon of what is attainable and what is reachable,” says Kate Terpis, interim Library Dean. “The community and our students, faculty and staff get a treat every time they come in to the Library to the stunning display of geology.”

The displays are from the personal collection of Herb and Joan Zuhl. With a passion for beautiful art pieces, the couple who weren’t NMSU graduates or from the state moved to Las Cruces in 1998, and began a more than 20-year relationship with NMSU with the first of many donations to the Library. 

An avid collector, Herb Zuhl continually acquired and donated specimens to NMSU. A collection of Joan Zuhl’s paintings is on display in Zuhl Library. In 2000, the Zuhls announced plans to provide an estimated $3 million to NMSU from their estate.  

Four years later, thanks to the couple, the Zuhl Museum: Home of the Zuhl Collection was established to display the more than 1,800 pieces of petrified wood, fossils and minerals that they donated to NMSU. The Zuhl Museum was enhanced with an expansion that opened in 2017 following a generous contribution from the Zuhls. 

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Herb Zuhl said, “I want to thank everyone who helped with the museum. I know the museum will continue in perpetuity and will be a permanent collection to be used for education and research for generations to come."

"Herb really wanted to find a home for his geological collection and what a wonderful home it has been,” Terpis says.

Additionally, the Zuhls created scholarships and endowments in the Library and departments across campus. Library Dean Emerita Elizabeth A. Titus, who began her NMSU tenure in 2000, met Herb and Joan Zuhl for the first time at the Zuhl Library naming ceremony that year.

"It was the beginning of a deep friendship over the next 20 years, filled with memories of Herb visiting with me to work on displaying new pieces of his geological collections in Zuhl Library, him personally touring guests, and his just dropping by or phoning me to say hello,” Titus says.

In 2011, NMSU awarded the couple an honorary Doctor of Letters. The Zuhls lived in Las Cruces for the rest of their lives; Joan passed away in February 2016 and Herb in February 2021.

"We are forever grateful for the support of Herb and Joan and will be deeply appreciative and mindful of how we thoughtfully work through utilizing the endowment funds,” Terpis says.

Herb Zuhl (left) and his wife, Joan Zuhl, received an honorary Doctor of Letters from NMSU in 2011. The couple established a more than 20-year relationship with NMSU, marked by several generous gifts to the university. Joan Zuhl passed away in 2016, and Herb Zuhl in 2021.
Avid collector Herb Zuhl donated several geological specimens to NMSU, several of which are on display inside the Zuhl Museum.