John Ball Zoo

John Ball Zoo's Historical Timeline: 1980 to 1989



Zoo Society kicks off fund drive for first phase of the Master Plan. The first phase would totally renovate the central core of the Zoo by 1985.

LV Eberhard gives first million dollar donation ever to Zoo.

Children’s Zoo Barnyard (expanded children’s zoo area).


In August, ground was broken for first phase of Zoo Master Plan.

County Commission via the Roads and Parks Commission offers to contribute $50,000 annually towards Zoo operations.

Zoo Society hires its first permanent full time employee, Brenda Stringer.

Fred Meyer retires as Zoo Director after 32 years.

Chuck Wikenhauser is hired as new Zoo Director.


The first four renovated exhibits in Phase I of Zoo Master Plan open:

Otter Exhibit (totally replaced old sea lion exhibit)
Prairie Dog/Coyote (replaced elephant exhibit)
Puma/Snow Leopard Exhibit (totally replaced Michigan upper run exhibits)
Monkey Island Winter Quarters and rework of island

Ramu, the lion, gets a root canal.


New herpetarium/nocturnal animal building opens at Zoo. LV Eberhard and Peter Cook funded.

Zoo becomes first zoo in Michigan to receive accreditation from American Zoo and Aquarium Association 


Original Penguin exhibit opens, donated by the Frey Family.

Zoo celebrates 100 years of John Ball Park


South American Exhibit opens at Zoo completing Phase I of Zoo Master Plan. Steve Van Andel chaired this campaign.

With assistance from John Boyles and Mr. Fables restaurants, Zoo Society establishes the John Ball Zoo Society Wildlife Conservation Fund.

This was also a year of tragedy for the Zoo. Gayle Booth, a young dedicated zoo keeper, was killed by the Zoo’s male jaguar. This was a terrible loss to Gayle’s family, friends, and all of us at the Zoo. Safety became the most important priority in building future exhibits as it was shown that a flaw in the exhibit design allowed the cat to gain access to the keeper portion of the building.


Renovation of Park Pavilion to year round use as theatre and zoo administration and education completed.

Construction plans were put on hold while the City and the County carried on several years of study and negotiation to find a way to better fund the cultural facilities in the City.

Ostrich House Concession (renovation of ostrich exhibit)


Zoo staff, Zoo Society Board, and architectural consultants revise Master Plan.

“Sam”, the bald eagle and Zoo’s oldest resident, dies.


Rare Geoffrey cats born.

Golden Eagle Aviary opens, donated by Peter Cook.           


Kent County purchased the Zoo and the Park.