"I'm a country girl. I prefer not to be in a concrete world, but be in nature," the zoo director-elect said on Wednesday during her three-day visit to the zoo.
Earlier in the afternoon she was formally introduced to the
Simmons is bringing more than 31 years experience of leading the
She will be one of the zoo's deputy directors and the chief executive officer, starting on
She terms the opportunity "an exciting new challenge."
Simmons had a lot of challenges on her hands when she took over as
"It probably should have been closed," she said about the condition of the
Today, it has about 200 full- and part-time employees and an approximately
She had no plans to leave the zoo, but when the opportunity to come to the
"All things I'm doing at the
She applauds the "tremendous green space" that's available, the zoo staff and the idea that the
Simmons wants to make a difference.
"I try to help people achieve great dreams and community ideas. I like to assist how I can."
She plans to provide her management expertise and all that she's also learned through the
Simmons served as the 2011-12 chair of the AZA Board of Directors and was involved in every aspect of the national organization, including accreditation, ethics, professional development, conservation education, government affairs and wildlife conservation. She's been a professional fellow member of the AZA since 1985.
At the time of her election as AZA board chair she was described as "an outstanding leader in the zoo and aquarium profession" and that the AZA-accredited institutions "will benefit from Pat's extensive experience, her thoughtful approach and her deep commitment to the mission of the association."
According to the
The zoo celebrated its 60th anniversary last year and set an all-time annual attendance record of 389,508. It had its largest expansion in 2013, too, with the opening of a four-acre exhibit featuring grizzly bears, river otters, red wolves, bald eagles, coyotes and a walk-in aviary. Births included two endangered penguin chicks and a pygmy slow loris and the zoo also acquired two Komodo dragons, a lion, octopus, tiger and snowy owl.
In April, two endangered snow leopards were born at the zoo which has more than 700 animals in the facility located just west of downtown
Last November, voters in
Simmons said that the
She's proud of the the way the
"I do believe the impossible happens -- maybe not as quick as you want."
And now Simmons is looking to become a key player in another opportunity.
"I'm looking forward to it," she said about her move to
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts,
Experience: Development researcher at
Family: Husband, Bruce, retired
Pets: Three yellow Labradors -- Twister, Sky, Hailie
Favorite Zoo Animal: Snow leopards (two were born in April at the
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