Honoring Mollie Toll
Endowment Moves Education Dreams Forward
Mollie was a person who made a difference in the world and in the lives of those she encountered. —Cathy Cameron, friend of Mollie Toll
Mollie Struever Toll was happiest with her hands in the dirt.
Gardening was Toll’s passion, from the home she shared with her husband Wolcott “Wolky” and two sons, to her volunteer roles at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and as a Los Amigos del Rancho Los Luceros board member.
Her vast botanical knowledge also was key to her longtime role as an ethnobotanist and archaeobotanist at the Office of Archaeological Studies. T he thought, time, effort and love she invested in educating students made her a beloved teacher and colleague.
As Toll’s friend, Claudia Silva, wrote in the Santa Fe New Mexican, “When Mollie wasn’t trying to uncover the intricacies of New Mexico’s prehistoric past, she was helping students understand life concepts through science.” And in her own personal bio for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Toll herself wrote that “Teaching four rounds of semester-long high school classes in ethnobotany at the Academy for Technology and the Classics and at the Institute of American Indian Arts” was among her favorite teaching stints.
Toll died February 8, 2023. In honor of her memory and her dedicated contributions to the Office of Archaeological Studies, the Mollie Toll Endowment for Education Outreach was recently established at the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. The endowment is designed to support the continuation of Toll’s educational outreach efforts by funding projects in a diverse range of subjects, including ecology, climate, biology, math and measurement, geology, hand manufacture and mapping.
With access to such programs, says Toll’s husband Wolky, “Students should come away knowing New Mexico’s complicated past. Many aspects of archaeology can be made fun for students of all ages, such as handling and making tools and objects derived from their discovery in archaeological contexts.”
The subjects are directly aligned with Toll’s work in area classrooms, where her flair for storytelling made archaeology and ethnobotany content enjoyable. At Gonzales Community School and Salazar Elementary School in Santa Fe, Toll taught students to create abundant school gardens, learning how to plant, grow, maintain and harvest a vegetable garden. Once harvested, Mollie gathered the students with their parents to cook a celebratory meal—often in conjunction with the nonprofit, Cooking with Kids. Toll’s compatible interests in agriculture and food also led her to teach how Spanish colonial contact created a uniquely New Mexican culinary tradition. It's no surprise that, in 2013, Toll was named one of two outstanding science teachers of the year by the New Mexico Science Teachers Association.
In her role at the Office of Archaeological Studies, Toll was instrumental in planning the Walk Through Time Garden on the grounds of the Center for New Mexico Archaeology. This 15,000-square-foot garden, created in collaboration with the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, provides visitors a glimpse of plant use at every phase of New Mexico history.
In a Fall 2021 interview in Member News, Toll said, “From [the garden], you can really get a sense of what the New Mexico landscape is and was.” She added that she believed the project is “woven into our [OAS] mission. I would like to encourage people to embrace the idea that landscaping is not just something to look at, it’s something to learn from.”
Today, the garden continues to take shape in chronological order, from a Hunter/Gatherer section to Early Farmers, Pueblo Farmers, and a Spanish Colonial Garden Orchard. The OAS is looking for volunteers to help maintain this special garden space. Visit nmarchaeology.org for details.
The Mollie Toll Endowment for Education Outreach is currently funded at $200,000 via private donations, including a generous $100,000 contribution from the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust.
To support the Office of Archaeological Studies, contact Lauren Paige at 505.982.2282 or Lauren@museumfoundation.org.
Join Friends of Archaeology
FOA activities educate members about past civilizations, lost technologies, and other topics that distinguish the region’s unique geography and cultural diversity. FOA members enjoy exclusive invitations to interact with archaeologists in an annual series of stimulating statewide field trips, lectures, volunteer fieldwork and other archaeology-focused activities.
To become an FOA member today, call 505.982.6366 ext. 100.
This article and image are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Summer 2023.