When I was a young child and my family would come to Fort Wayne to visit relatives, our most anticipated event was visiting the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo with our grandparents. Each summer we would go to the zoo and spend the day – animals, rides, lunch, souvenirs. It’s was the highlight of every visit, every summer, every year. Living here as an adult and raising three children of my own, that annual outing was a huge part of their lives, and my grandparents were always the ringleaders. When my sisters would visit with their children, we knew a trip to the zoo was mandatory.
I now have a granddaughter, and we’re taking a somewhat different approach. Instead of the one-day, all-day blowout, we have a grandparent membership which allows us to take her for an hour here, an hour there, taking as much or as little time as she can handle on any given day. It’s a new way to experience the zoo, and as thousands of families in and around Fort Wayne know, there’s no bad way to experience our Children’s Zoo. It’s a landmark and a treasure, and it’s provided joy to generations.
One of the many who have a lifetime of memories of the zoo is its director, Jim Anderson, whose entire academic and career plan was altered by a summer job. A graduate of South Side High School, Anderson played trumpet in the band and decided to pursue a major in music at Indiana University.
In 1976, home for a few months after his freshman year, he applied for a summer job at the zoo. That was all she wrote. Within a few years Anderson was graduating with a degree in animal science from Purdue University instead of the music degree from IU. He’s been working for the zoo ever since, for the last two decades as its director.
As the zoo celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Anderson is only the second director in its history. Founding director Earl Wells preceded him and laid the groundwork for Anderson’s own vision of the zoo.
“We have 250 employees this summer, and we give them each a piece of responsibility,” he says. “That also gives them a piece of the success of the zoo. I’m here, but I’m not going to be driving the train today or flipping burgers or feeding the giraffes or selling tickets. All of those things are an important part of what makes this zoo successful, and we can all take credit for making that happen.”
Giving each person at the zoo a stake in its success – and understanding their importance to the zoo’s mission – has made it a happy place to work and to visit for half a century.
“You have to understand that no one person is more important than the newest employee,” says Anderson. “Each person is part of something big. We tell them ‘We can’t do it without you.’”
That sense of team spreads beyond the zoo’s borders and into the city and region as a whole, with Anderson understanding that there’s a great relationship between the zoo and the community which has so embraced it.
“Part of what we’re trying to do with this 50th birthday celebration is to get our message out to more people, to share our zoo with the community and to thank the community for all its done for us. We don’t get money from the city to keep this all going. We’ve been built by donations, admission and memberships, and we use that money to pay our staff and feed the animals. We serve the community, but the community has served us. It’s been a very circular thing.”
Although open for guests April through October, the zoo is maintained all year long and hosts school field trips which help youngsters learn about zoology and animals in a fun and interactive way. Anderson says that even if you drive by the zoo on Christmas day, you’ll see 30 cars in the parking lot, since staff are always checking on the animals and the facilities. A walk around the zoo quickly demonstrates the sense of teamwork Anderson touts, with everyone working diligently to serve the thousands of visitors that come through the gates each year. (That numbers 20 million visitors in 50 years.) Anderson feels strongly that the zoo’s greatest goal is in the experience they give their guests.
“Our founding director Earl Wells said ‘People don’t want to see things, they want to do things,’ and we try to provide an interactive experience. I want to provide an enriching experience for families that come here. It really is a higher purpose. It’s a pretty big thing.”
Two directors in 50 years is a fairly remarkable accomplishment for any organization and demonstrates the stability which has made the zoo successful. Always moving forward with new attractions, the updated reef aquarium recently reopened and the stingray exhibit is set to open mid-summer. There are more plans to expand and grow the Australian Adventure with a new aviary and reptile house along with improvements to the boat ride. There are always possible projects in the offing.
“We have two lists: the ‘want to do’ and the ‘have to do,’” says Anderson. “It’s always a matter of time and money what gets done. For example, the Mother Goose which has been sitting there for 50 years is on the ‘have to do’ list. It’s a great need of a cleaning and update. I want everything to be perfect, and it’s just a matter of making sure we have the money to do all of it.”
The father of five children, ranging in age from 14 to 23, Anderson has turned that summer job 39 years ago into a lifelong career and passion. He says there are some zoo directors who hopscotch around the country moving from zoo to zoo. That isn’t his career path.
“I’ve seen about 150 zoos all around the country, and I think the experience we offer our guests is as good as it gets. In the almost 40 years I’ve worked here, I’ve had other opportunities. But it’s a hometown thing, it’s a family thing, and I’ve always felt this community and this team here is headed in the right direction. It’s fun to be part of it.”
by Michele DeVinney
Thursday, April 27
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Community Unity — Community dinner, games and prizes, and neighborhood safety forum, 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Jennings Recreation Center, Fort Wayne, free, 427-6028
Issues and Ales — Panel of experts discuss important issues in the community with audience Q&A , 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits, Fort Wayne, free, 456-7005
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Chris Worth — Variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Fort Wayne Comedy Connection — Comedy at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Hubie Ashcraft — Acoustic at River View Tavern, Decatur, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 724-3500
Open Mic — Hosted by Mike Mowry at Pedal City, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 415-6167
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Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Karaoke at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 422-5055
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., ,
Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at By: Belle Haven, South Whitley, 8 p.m., no cover, 866-716-9243
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Shut Up and Sing — Karaoke at Duesy's Sports Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 483-5681
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-1311
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Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, April 26-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
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37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3 , Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru April 30, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568