John Ball Zoo


Over its 126 year history, John Ball Zoo has been fortunate to have many notable supporters who have fueled the growth and development that have made our Zoo one of West Michigan's most iconic institutions. This year John Ball Zoo is pleased to establish a special tradition - Legends of the Zoo dinner - to recognize and celebrate the individuals who have help make the Zoo such a cherished place. In this inaugural year, we are especially proud to honor Bea Idema and David Frey.

    John Ball Zoo is incredibly fortunate to count Bea Idema and David Frey among its most visionary supporters. It is with great honor and joy that we look forward to honoring them as Legends of the Zoo.

    Bea Idema has a long history with John Ball Zoo. In fact, one of Bea’s favorite memories of John Ball Zoo and Park stems from her early courtship with her late husband, Bill. Bea joyfully recounts stories of how as young adults she and Bill often cruised the Zoo’s parkways together in Bill’s Ford Model T.

    Since those days, Bill and Bea’s spirit of generosity have benefited many in Grand Rapids and around the world. Whether it was a lead gift to a multi-million dollar project like the Secchia Center in Grand Rapids or a gift to a neighborhood school, all their contributions have had impact. The list of non-profits that have benefited is simply too long to list but have included a diversity of organizations and causes ranging from the Grand Rapids Public Museum to Habitat for Humanity, from the Michigan Colleges Foundation to the Salvation Army Kroc Center, from the Grand Rapids Art Museum to Camp Henry and many, many more.

    Among the many institutions that have benefited from Bill and Bea’s generosity, John Ball Zoo was never far from their hearts, and after Bill’s passing, Bea continued in that spirit of giving that was such a part of their life together. In 2010, Bea and the Bill and Bea Idema Foundation gave John Ball Zoo the largest donation in its history. That gift not only created a new icon for the city of Grand Rapids—the Idema Funicular and the Idema Forest Realm—but it allowed the Zoo to expand by eleven acres. Bea understood the Zoo’s need to grow and also understood the hilltop would remain inaccessible without a means to transport visitors up to the top. She and Bill had ridden funiculars in Europe and she was struck by the Zoo’s plans to build one. Bea Idema’s gift literally changed both the landscape, and the future of our city’s Zoo.

    David Frey’s place as a giant among Grand Rapids’ business and philanthropic community leaders is well known, and likewise he holds a special place among the pantheon of Zoo Legends.

    David’s ties to Grand Rapids run deep, starting with his grandfather, John E. Frey, who was born on the city’s west side in 1880, not far from where John Ball Zoo would be established eleven years later. As an adult, John Frey founded Union Bank and Trust Company, which was subsequently chaired by David’s father and then by David himself. In his early years David spent time away from west Michigan, first for schooling and then during the Vietnam War, but each time David returned to the city of his birth, where he has worked tirelessly to make it a better place for all.

    Through his individual support as well as through the Frey Foundation, David has made a crucial impact in many areas of the arts and culture, in improving the lives of women and children, and the protection of the environment. Furthermore, by helping to create and direct the Grand Action Committee, David has worked to foster many of the most significant public-private partnerships that have done so much during the past few decades to transform and expand the economic landscape of Grand Rapids.

    David and the Frey family have also made an indelible mark on John Ball Zoo. The family made possible both the first penguin exhibit, in 1984, as well as the current penguin exhibit in the Living Shores Aquarium, built in 1995. David himself was one of the chairs of the Restore the Roar campaign that brought lions back to John Ball Zoo in 2008 and throughout the years David’s leadership and advice has been truly instrumental in helping guide the Zoo to its current levels of success.


    Marilyn and Bill Crawford


    Irwin Seating Company
    Pioneer Construction


    Mimi Cummings
    Fifth Third Bank
    David G. Frey


    Janet and John Boyles
    Helen J. and Allen I. Hunting
    David and Carol Van Andel Family Foundation
    Kate Pew Wolters


    Call: Development Department 616-336-3309
    Mail: John Ball Zoo PO Box 2506, Grand Rapids, MI 49501
    Fax: (616) 336-3907
    Walk in: Administration Office
                  1300 W Fulton St Grand Rapids, MI 49504
                  8 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Friday