West Michigan is like no other community. Not only has it provided me a wonderful place to live, raise a family and work, but it also has taught me the importance of community service and giving back to others.
I started serving on boards early in my professional career. I cherish the relationships I’ve built along the way and the impact we collectively have made on our community. While I have served on many boards over the years, I am particularly proud of my 15 years on the John Ball Zoo Board of Directors, the last four as Chair. It’s a terrific organization and a tremendous asset to our community.
As the Zoo prepares to open this week for its 131st year, I take stock of the positive change during my tenure. While I certainly cannot individually take credit, I am honored to have played a part in the Zoo’s growth, the joy it brings to residents and visitors, the lessons it teaches our children, and the conservation role it provides to wildlife.
I joined the Board in 2007 and since that time attendance at JBZ has risen 40 percent. Thanks to the generosity of the community, we’ve been able to raise nearly $30 million for capital improvements and new exhibits. These upgrades have helped us double the Zoo’s annual revenues. And the growth hasn’t been limited to just visitors – we have celebrated 8,730 zoo births during the past 15 years.
Our Zoo is the fourth most attended cultural facility in Michigan attracting more than 600,000 visitors annually. It has a $40 million annual economic impact in our local communities. But perhaps the most impressive statistic involves a little-known initiative. More than 55,000 economically disadvantaged children and adults in Kent and Ottawa counties have receive free admission to the Zoo through our JUMP program, which has grown 180 percent since 2007.
John Ball Zoo’s mission is to inspire our community to be actively engaged in the conservation of wildlife and our natural environment. The Zoo staff is among the finest in the nation – caring for more than 213 species and over 2,220 individual animals each and every day. They participate in 34 Species Survival Plans and 39 Taxon Advisory Groups. Their involvement with these zoological organizations helps them manage the population and sustainability of our many zoo residents and ensures a bright future for this diamond on the hill.
I am very proud to be a part of the amazing board of directors and have a small role in making John Ball Zoo a treasured gem in our community. I am also grateful to be leading a locally-based company like Legacy Trust that understands the importance of community engagement and public service. It’s a standard of commitment the Legacy Trust board and staff live by every day. It’s just one of the many reasons I am proud to call West Michigan home.
President & CEO