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Zoological fund drive under way

The Red River Zoological Society has kicked off a $500,000 capital fund drive. Co-chairmen of the drive aimed at benefiting the Red River Zoo are Thomas C. Wold and Michael Unhjem. The Zoological Society, which owns and operates the Red River Zoo...

The Red River Zoological Society has kicked off a $500,000 capital fund drive.

Co-chairmen of the drive aimed at benefiting the Red River Zoo are Thomas C. Wold and Michael Unhjem.

The Zoological Society, which owns and operates the Red River Zoo, was formed in 1993 and has raised about $5.3 million for the zoo, which opened in 1999.

"The current $500,000 campaign is the first communitywide fund-raising event for the society," says Wold. "The funds will be used to pay debt, establish an endowment fund and make miscellaneous improvements to exhibits at the zoo."

Unhjem says the campaign has raised $287,800. He is optimistic the balance will be raised by the end of November.

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Team leaders of the capital fund drive are Donald Kilander, Sandra Roers and Bruce Hager.

Task force members are Tom Dawson, Duane Durr, George Gaukler, Brendan Muldoon, Mike Hofer Jr., Steve Swiontek, Bob Thibedeau, Bill Kiefer, Michael J. Olson, Dave Selland, Dick Solberg, Jim Sweeney, Tom Van Raden, David Bailly, Jim Buus, Brad Dahl, Robert Gibb, Roger Reierson, Jeff Schlossman, Brad Wimmer, Brenda Boland, Bob Dawson, Charley Hundley, John Pierce, Anna Frissell, Mike Montgomery and Mike Solberg.

Red River Zoo Executive Director Paula Grimestad says the zoo is wrapping up a successful sixth season in which attendance grew 10 percent from 2003. From May to October, more than 52,000 people visited the zoo.

More than 5,000 students visited the zoo for field trips this spring, Grimestad says. Live animal outreach programs were enjoyed by more than 3,000 children and 500 senior citizens within a 100-mile radius of the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Although the Red River Zoo closed Oct. 10 for the season, education programming and special events continue throughout the winter.

I only heard Robert Merrill sing once in person, but I remember the Metropolitan Opera star's beautiful baritone voice brought tears to my eyes.

Merrill, who died Saturday, sang in a St. Paul church at the funeral of Minnesota Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, the former vice president. It probably didn't hurt that he was accompanied by famed violinist Isaac Stern.

Another Fargoan, Rick Stern, co-owner of Straus Clothing, also remembers Merrill.

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Stern played string bass in the University of North Dakota Symphony Orchestra and Merrill was coming to Grand Forks to sing with the symphony.

Stern had a decision to make in May 1969. It was the same weekend of the now infamous "Zip to Zap," which attracted national media attention and left the western North Dakota community in a shambles when thousands of college students invaded the town for a spring fling. The North Dakota National Guard was called out to disperse the students.

"I missed the Zip to Zap to play with Robert Merrill and I never regretted it," says Stern. "I was smart enough to know you don't get to play with Robert Merrill all the time. What an experience it was to play with him."

Stern had another chance to visit with Merrill about 15 years later when he performed at Concordia College in Moorhead. "He was a wonderful man," recalls Stern.

Readers can reach Terry DeVine at (701) 241-5515 or tdevine@forumcomm.com

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