He brought the Omnitheater, actors teaching science, a field research lab and other advances to the museum.
Phil Taylor took the St. Paul Institute of Science and Letters from relative obscurity and expanded it into a museum recognized internationally for its vast collection of specimens and for its educational and research programs.
Known now as the Science Museum of Minnesota, the name change was among the first enhancements, innovations and expansions he brought to the museum where he served as director from 1959 to 1991. Under his leadership, the museum moved from cramped quarters in a mansion on Capitol Hill to a spacious building on 10th and Wabasha streets, became home of the nation's second Omnitheater, opened the Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center, and established the St. Croix Watershed Research Station.
Taylor died of complications from Alzheimer's Disease Jan. 30 at the Greeley Healthcare Center Nursing Home in Stillwater. He was 88.
He brought trendsetting programming to St. Paul when he hired actors to present science lessons to visitors, a feature that spread to other museums nationwide. He was instrumental in raising funds to help schools cover the cost of busing children to the Science Museum, established a trading post where kids could swap everything from agates to bones, and he placed the iconic Iggy, the giant lizard sculpture that sat outside the front doors at the museum's old home before it moved to its current location on Kellogg Blvd.
"He wanted to make it relevant and accessible," said his stepdaughter Missy Bowen of New Orleans.
Taylor's fascination with bugs and nature dates to his days as a Boy Scout while attending Minneapolis North High School. He was dubbed the "turtle of the troop" because on hikes he always had to stop and "look at all the critters crawling on the ground," his stepdaughter said. He earned bachelor's and masters degrees in entomology from the University of Minnesota.
He joined the museum staff in 1953 as head of the education department, and was promoted to director six years later. In 1967, Taylor persuaded the museum's board to establish the Warner Nature Center in Marine on St. Croix. At the end of his tenure, he was instrumental in establishing the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, a field research lab that conducts ecological studies and field investigations. A pond there that opened in 1989 is named in his honor, said Ron Lawrenz, director of the Warner Nature Center.
One of Taylor's favorite pastimes was to walk farmers' land and look for rattlesnakes. He often paid the property owner for the privilege. One time, a farmer showed up a few days after one of Taylor's visits and presented him with a gunny sacks of snakes as a thank you. The snakes are now on view at Como Zoo, said his wife, Molly, of Oak Park Heights.
Taylor was a medic in the Army Marine Corp in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1945. He once served as acting mayor of the Washington County suburb of Lakeland, where he lived for many years. He also was an avid insect collector (some of his collection is on view at the Science Museum) and liked to kayak and canoe on the St. Croix River, his family said.
In addition to his wife and stepdaughter, Taylor is survived by another stepdaughter, Anne Bowen of West Lake Village, Calif.; two stepsons, John Bowen of St. Louis and James of Portland, Ore.; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 214 N. 3rd Street, Stillwater.