They say that from death comes life. If bringing joy and enrichment to millions of children and adults is any indication of life, then this old saying rings true as the John Ball Zoo celebrates it’s 125th Birthday.
John Ball’s Land Willed for Public Use
In 1884, Grand Rapids native John Ball died, and left in his will a 40 acre plot of land – not to family – but to the City of Grand Rapids for public use. In its infancy, the plot was used as a public park. Around 1891, the land slowly began acquiring animals. First, just a few birds in cages and native animals like squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits. Over the years, deer, bear, peacocks and other more spectacular animals of the time were introduced to the park.
Ups and Downs During the Depression
The zoo saw additional growth in its animal population from 1902 to 1925, and a pavilion and statue were constructed in dedication to John Ball also during that time. When the Great Depression hit, many animals were forced to be moved due to inability to meet the cost of food and care for the animals. Records show many purchases and sales of animals as the Depression continued, as well as DNR boarding of animals at the zoo during this time.
Zoo Grows to 140 Acre Park, 1000+ Animals
As WWII ended, Grand Rapids residents became frustrated with the lack of funding for the zoo, and made their voices heard that they wanted to rebuild the zoo. From the 1950’s on, the John Ball Zoo received funding from many of Grand Rapids’ prominent residents, and grew over the decades to become what is now a 140 acre park that is home to 237 species and over 1,000 animals.
125th Birthday Celebration
This year, the John Ball Zoo celebrated 125 Years with many festivities. Most notable was the ‘125 Days of Animal Birthdays’ event. Each day for 125 days, an animal was honored with a Birthday sponsored by local businesses and individuals. On the day my daughter and I attended the Zoo, we celebrated the Birthday animal of honor: the Tiger Shark. I thought it was a fun way to put the spotlight on each of the animals, and also use a memorable event like a Birthday to show kids that animals are living, breathing things just like them.
Other 125th Birthday celebration events for John Ball Zoo included:
- RendeZoo 2016 – Let Them Eat Cake – This annual event is the largest fundraising source for the Zoo each year. This year’s event highlighted the zoo’s Birthday theme with cupcakes, party hats, live music, and more.
- Public Celebration Week – In addition to animal birthdays, special Birthday treats were served to park guests throughout the week, along with giveaways and special entertainment.
- Members Night – Pass-holding Zoo members were able to party at the zoo, which included photos with the John Ball Zoo statue, animal training demonstrations, and frosted Birthday cookies.
The Zoo’s 125th anniversary was topped off with the final event of the season, the annual ‘Zoo Goes Boo!’ with trick-or-treating, decorations, and other Halloween Fun. Congratulations to the John Ball Zoo on 125 years of bringing the love of animals to so many!