Article by Miranda Ericsson
Gary K. Clarke knew the power of thinking big. As director of the Topeka Zoo, he believed that our community deserved the best–that we were the best–and he set about making the World Famous Topeka Zoo a point of pride during the 26 years that he served as director. Current Director Brendan Wiley says that Clarke’s work to increase the diversity and quality of the zoo in a community of our size is a huge accomplishment, and not something that could easily be done again.
Sadly, Clarke passed away last month, but he lived to see his vision for an African safari experience at the zoo realized with the opening of Camp Cowabunga, the largest project in the Topeka Zoo’s history. Recently the zoo received word that the Topeka Zoo and Mohan Construction have been awarded the Associated General Contractors of Kansas (AGC) State Building Award of Excellence for their work on the Camp Cowabunga exhibit.
Fawn Moser, Manager of Zoo Operations, recognizes Clarke’s ability to rally support from a wide range of people and businesses to bring a grand vision to life.
“Camp Cowabunga is unique in that the funding first came from those that went on safari with Gary,” Moser said. “There are 38 states represented in that fundraising effort.”
Gary K. Clarke also recognized the value of engaging local business in partnerships with the zoo, Wiley says, and began actively pursuing such partnerships early in his career.
“So much comes of synergy and collaboration,” Wiley said. “Businesses that call Topeka their home take great pride in the support that they give to this community.”
Wiley points to Hills as an example of a long time partner, a business that supported the zoo as they were establishing their operations in Topeka.
“Hills recognized that for Topeka to thrive, people had to take pride in their community, and enjoy themselves here,” Wiley said.
Wiley points out that partnering with the zoo is a way to help a wide range of people enjoy our community for decades to come, and feel that pride in our home.
“It’s not uncommon to see four generations of a family at the zoo at one time,” Wiley says. “And when a business shows people that they are invested in Topeka, there is a shared pride that lifts everyone.”
There are many ways that businesses and individuals can support the zoo. While monetary donations are appreciated, not everyone has the ability to cut a check. Wiley says that helping the zoo get the word out about programs and attractions is a great way to show support. He also credits businesses with displaying giving trees during the holidays that result in enrichment for the zoo’s animals throughout the year.
“We’re very frugal with our budget,” Wiley said, “but everyone likes to see the animals get special treatment and activities. A number of area businesses put up a giving tree with ornaments listing treats for the animals, such as cologne, cereal, and jello-o. It’s amazing how many donations come in. It’s not uncommon to get enough enrichment items at the holidays to last our animals the whole year, and it would never be successful without the generosity of area businesses. We welcome support at any level, and if you want to help, we want to work with you.”
Fawn Moser will always remember Gary K. Clarke for his humor and his heart.
“His foresight and imagination to create amazing experiences for guests, staff and friends was extraordinary,” she said. “We are just so thankful he was able to see the joy it brought so many in the few months he was able to experience it as well.”