Lee Richardson Zoo docents, along with their "animal ambassadors," lined the pathway leading to the west green of the zoo Saturday night, greeting guests at the 13th annual A Wild Affair fundraising event.
Shonda Collins was showing off a three-ring armadillo, while guests also were able to get up close and personal with a hedgehog, a desert tortoise named Sahara and a central plain milk snake, which is native to southwest Kansas.
The animals' presence seemed appropriate on a night when community members came to support the zoo, and more specifically, the zoo's animal-themed carousel project that is in the works.
Proceeds from Saturday's fundraising event will go toward the zoo's plan to construct a building to house the carousel for the future entertainment of the zoo's young guests.
“We are trying to raise funds for a carousel,” Sidney Worf, chair of the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo Board of Directors, said about the plans to house an indoor carousel adjacent to both the zoo's playground area and Cat Canyon exhibit. “We are hoping it will get us closer to our goal.”
Saturday's A Wild Affair, which FOLRZ Executive Director Jessica Norton estimated raised roughly $35,000, certainly went a long way to helping the organization reach its fundraising goal.
Worf said the event was coordinated by FOLRZ board members and employees, as well as many other volunteers and zoo staff. There were 18 sponsors, including businesses and families from Garden City, who donated money for the evening’s activities, as well as a number of vendors who provided food and beverages.
“Everybody worked together for this event,” Worf said.
Katrina Lowry and her husband, Joe, both 40, of Garden City, attended the event for the first time because they love the zoo.
“We’ve never been, so we wanted to check it out; and we like doing things to support the community,” she said. “It’s fun to try all the different stuff. Seeing the docents when you come in is really cool. Plus, you get to support the zoo, which is a really good cause.”
Heather Smith, 26, and her boyfriend, Austin McColloch, 28, recently moved to Garden City from Manhattan.
“We really wanted to make sure that we are being involved in the community and going to different events,” she said. “At the end of the day, I know all of the proceeds are going to the zoo and that’s a big thing. I love animals.”
Valerie Rainman serves as a zoo ambassador, and her husband, Joe, a retired veterinarian, has been a docent since 2002.
“We have the best zoo,” she said. “It’s Garden City’s best kept secret. We are so proud of our zoo. When someone comes to visit you the first thing you take them to is the zoo.”
During the event, guests were able to sample food from numerous area restauranteurs and caterers, including Pinky’s Grilled Cheestro, Plank’s BBQ, Garden City Steakhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings, Las Margaritas, Rib Crib, Great Western Dining, Thai Arawan, Webb’s Food Crew and BBQ, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, and Cat’s Cakes.
The evening also included silent and live auctions. A variety of silent auction items included framed photos of the zoo’s camels and lion, as well as a victrola, a gift certificate for athletic shoes, a bowling party and a birthday party at the zoo. During the live auction, a lucky bidder got to name a road at the zoo for a year for $375. Someone bought a barrel of whiskey for $3,000, and another person got the chance to name a carousel animal for $5,900.
Bruce White, 62, of Garden City, designed the carousel animals and carousel, and his daughter, Charity Saddler, 39, of Garden City, painted them.
Norton said White's carousel previously was housed at Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, but it was outdoors in the elements there and he wanted it to be indoors where it could be preserved better.
White decided to donate the carousel to the zoo on the condition that it be housed inside, Norton said. The zoo liked the idea, Norton said, and has now made raising funds to construct a building for the carousel it's new major project.
“It’s too much to sell,” White said Saturday. “A little piece of my heart and soul goes into it. That I don’t want to sell, but I will give them freely. This way I can watch my grandchildren and the young and the young at heart enjoy them. Hopefully, they will still be going after I’m gone.”
The animals that will be on the carousel include a tiger, lion, ostrich, dolphin and horse. The animals were on display Saturday night. There are also eight panels along the top of the carousel with animal murals that include monkeys, eagles, tigers and elephants.
“I’m very excited about it,” Saddler said. “Part of what I like about it is it will be here for my children to enjoy and my grandchildren. I love that it’s here in the city that we live. He has them in other zoos and places around the world, but we don’t get to go there. Here, we can enjoy it with our family.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Sidney Worf, chair of the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo Board of Directors.