She stopped to admire a metal sculpture that artist
The sculpture is dedicated to the late
Simmons related the story behind the metal sculpture.
"When I first met
Simmons realized at a young age that beauty was right outside the door of the central
She recounted the day when, at age 7, she tried to re-create a moving stream with "beautiful, flowing green algae" in the middle of the family's TV room with her mother's bowls, a pile of dirt and a bunch of rocks. She didn't get in trouble for the mess, but because it "was too important" to put aside when she was asked to set the table for dinner.
"It was the only time in my life I was ever paddled," she said.
Simmons, president and CEO of the
"I think I am most pleased that we have created a zoo that this community wanted and having their support and trust to accomplish it, " she said in an interview shortly before her last day at the helm.
During a tour of the zoo, Simmons and 4-year-old Laralie Staniford of
Laralie and her mother,
"That's wonderful. Community days are a 'thank you' for supporting the zoo," Simmons said.
She said the opportunity that beckons in
"They are doing everything there that we are doing in Akron, but on a much larger scale," she said.
When zoo representatives "came knocking on my door," Simmons said the timing seemed right. She felt that with the
"The zoo's finances are secured for the next seven years," she said.
That wasn't the case in 1983, when Simmons first entered the front gates as a newly hired director of development and administration and walked into "what most of the world would consider a dump," she said.
"The zoo had
Her personal mission was to make the old, neglected, formerly city-owned
Building a zoo
In six years, Simmons earned a certificate of authenticity for the zoo through the
"Accreditation was critical to becoming a professional organization in people's minds," she said she realized. Only 10 percent of the zoos in the country today have standards high enough to rate accreditation by the AZA.
Simmons quickly discovered that in order to learn what people wanted in their zoo, she had to pose questions to guests and listen to their answers.
"We never want to build something our guests don't want," Simmons said, a policy the zoo still practices.
In the beginning, as she walked around the zoo that primarily was home to North American animals, people complained because there were no monkeys, she said.
"So, we put in monkeys. Then, they complained there were no penguins. So, we put in penguins."
When guests complained there were no lions, tigers and bears, Simmons said, she knew it would take a bigger effort to satisfy the community's wish list.
"I was finally able to get enough momentum to raise
Opening Tiger Valley in 1998 was key to convincing a doubting county administration that voters would support zoo operations with their tax dollars.
The first levy request was approved in 2000 by 51 percent of
"When Pat and I met to talk about the possibility of a tax that would only be used to support the zoo, I was a little skeptical, to say the least. Thirty minutes later, I was one of her biggest supporters and have never regretted that decision," McCarthy said by phone from his home in
After that election, Simmons gathered zoo employees, patted them on their backs for their hard work, then issued a word of warning, recalled
Dedicated employees had worked for 60 consecutive days on the levy, he said.
"And here she is, she's telling us that our work was just beginning. She told us we had six years to prove ourselves," he remembered. "Making us accountable was a good lesson that I've never forgotten."
In 2003, the Barnhardt Family Welcome Center,
In 2005, Legends of the Wild opened. The
The following year, voters showed their satisfaction, renewing the levy with 63 percent approval.
In 2008, the zoo opened what would prove to be one of the most successful exhibits in its history. Jellies: Rhythm in the Blue, helped set an annual attendance record of 328,953 guests.
In 2010, the zoo opened the
With the opening of
A budget of
Replacing Simmons won't be easy, said board President
"Pat is a visionary and a leader that the zoo will surely miss. She's left the zoo in a great place for her successor," Littman said.
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