Joanne Vick has been a lifelong patron of the Toledo Zoo, attending with her parents as a child and then later with her own children. When she saw a newspaper ad for the zoo asking for help, she figured it could be something enjoyable to do, and joined the volunteer staff in October 1980. Over four decades later, Joanne is still there, happily roaming the grounds to answer guests’ questions about the zoo and its animals.
“You might say it’s a place that has been forever in my life,” she said.
During those four decades, Joanne has donated over 12,500 hours of service to the zoo. For 16 of those years, her service included assisting the keeper of the gorilla area with cleaning and prepping food, which the lifelong Toledo resident said is still her favorite memory from her time volunteering.
Describe your volunteer role with the Toledo Zoo.
Right now, I make myself available on the grounds. I tell everyone about the wonderful zoo and about the animals, and answer any questions that they have about the animals — if it’s male or female, if it was born at the zoo, how they act and how they adapt, and so forth. I give a lot of people directions, too. Some maps are very confusing and they want to know how to get to such and such area, and I do help with that.
What inspired you to start volunteering at the zoo?
I had an incident that happened in my life and I needed something new. I saw in the paper where they were asking for volunteers at the Toledo Zoo, and I thought that would be a good way to make me happy again.
What about the zoo has made you want to continue volunteering all these decades later?
I just enjoy it. I enjoy talking to the visitors. I enjoy being around the animals. I enjoy the other volunteers who have come in over the years. I have made many, many good friendships with other volunteers.
What is your favorite part of the Toledo Zoo?
I used to volunteer with the keeper of the gorillas once a week. People ask me what I did with the gorillas, and I would say, “It’s P&P, I prep their food and pick up their poop.” I did that for 16 years and I did it until the keeper retired. … [The gorillas] were just so human-like that you could almost see their little wheels turning around in their heads.
Why do you think the zoo is an important resource for Toledo?
I think it teaches people that animals have a place on this earth just as much as we do.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I learned how to be kind to people and how to deal with all different types of people.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
So many organizations depend on volunteers. Because they have volunteers, they are saving money for their organizations that they don’t have to have paid employees. That goes for any nonprofit organization — for animal shelters, the zoo, metro parks, any place like that.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
One thing I would want people to learn is what a wonderful zoo we have. From the time I was a child going to the zoo and up to my 40 years of volunteering, I have seen nothing but good happenings and improvement to the zoo.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Joanne? Find local volunteer opportunities.