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5.04.17 – Luncheon Notes

SPOKES Notes written by Dan Durkee

Our meeting was opened in song with ‘God Bless America’ led by Kevin Paul, followed by an invocation by Jeff Rogers.  President Michael Sytsma then shared a Rotary Relevance moment by indicating members of the club who were connected with a number of articles and local initiatives in a recent issue of the Grand Rapids Business Journal.  Tom Dorwin introduced guests and visiting Rotarians, and Matt Hylant coordinated the introduction of new members Arlen Gaddy with Varnum Consulting sponsored by Tom Swets and Carl VerBeek, and Jeff Jackson with J. Ross & Associates sponsored by Josh Conran.  Randy Murphy then gave a brief overview of our 21st annual Rotary Golf Outing on August 7th at Blythefield Country Club, and encouraged everyone to sign-up and/or sponsor before July 1st to be eligible for a special competitive hole contest.

President Michael then introduced our speaker, Peter D’Arienzo, CEO of John Ball Zoo and previously with the Kansas City Zoo where he was Director of Operations.

Peter opened his presentation with an interesting history of John Ball, who was born in 1794, traveled the Oregon Trail in 1832, came to Grand Rapids in 1837, and built the first school house and served on the school board for over 30 years.  John Ball became known as ‘honest John’ having helped several settlers to acquire land and ultimately donated 40 acres of his own land for the zoo in 1844 just prior to his death.  The iconic statue of John Ball was installed at the zoo in 1925 and the zoo’s first director was hired and a foundation formed in 1949.  Continued growth has included the formation of the zoo school in 1970 and one of the country’s best tiger exhibits in 2014.

Peter then discussed future plans for the John Ball Zoo, which is the 10th oldest zoo in the country with 200 paid staff, over 200 volunteers, and an annual budget of $40 million.  It is his belief that the most memorable zoo experience is not necessarily with the animals but with the people they visit the zoo with, such as their parents, grandparents, or friends.  With over 100 acres of land, 35 of which are dedicated park land, the zoo is in the process of updating its master plan, which will be carefully aligned with its mission and focused upon people and their experiences while visiting.  The zoo will continue to serve our community both inside the zoo and outside, and look forward to the opportunity to seek input from the public during the master planning process.

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