John Ball Zoo turns 125 years old

John Ball Zoo, the 10th oldest zoo in the U.S., meets a milestone this year by turning 125 years old. To celebrate this achievement, the zoo will throw a special birthday party for 125 days by celebrating one animal a day.

The celebration began on April 17 with the celebration of the amur tiger, sponsored by Les and Linda DeJong. Other animals being honored include the bald eagle, sponsored by Bill Templin and Compass Realty Services, and the snow leopard, sponsored by GMB Architecture and Engineering. Animal parties will continue through Aug. 19.

The zoo  began after John Ball, a founding father of Grand Rapids, left 40 acres of land for city use in 1884. By 1891 Ball 40, the name of the zoo at that time, began to be officially recognized. Since then, the Grand Rapids community has gone to John Ball Zoo to see and learn about the intriguing world of animals.

The zoo’s website,, features animal stories, the history behind art found throughout the zoo, and a timeline with photos that pinpoint major influences and changes over the last 125 years. It highlights key people and events who have contributed to the zoo. For example, Fred Meyer, the zoo director in 1951, added 52 species of animals. In addition to sharing the zoo’s history, the website also encourages the community to share their own photos from the zoo.

“This is a special time for us. We are so thankful to the West Michigan community both today and for the last 125 years for their support. The zoo is committed to remaining an important part of our community and providing special memories for families and visitors for many more years,” said Brenda Stringer, zoo director of institutional advancement.

Currently, more than a half-million people visit the zoo every year whether it’s just to visit, for an educational program, a camp or a special event.

This year the annual RendeZoo fundraiser will honor the 125-year milestone with a “Let Them Eat Cake” theme. This outdoor zoo party will be a night of fun and entertainment. Activities include seeing the animals, enjoying music and dancing. This event will take place on June 10, 2016. Tickets can be bought online at

“We wanted to be sure we celebrate our 125th birthday and share the fun with all our visitors,” said Kyle Irwin, board president of the zoo.

The Public Celebration Week will end the 125-day celebration. This event runs each day of the week from Aug. 15 through Aug. 19 and cake will be served. There will also be entertainment and the daily animal birthday party.

John Ball Zoo encourages the community to sponsor an animal birthday party. This $125 donation will include recognition of the sponsor’s name or organization on a sign at the zoo, as well as on their website and Facebook page. Sponsors may choose to honor someone by including messages for birthdays, anniversaries and memorials.

“Sponsoring an animal birthday party is a terrific way to support our zoo and the animals we care for every day. Our 125th birthday allows us to showcase what a phenomenal zoo we are today,” said John Ball Zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo.

John Ball Zoo, located on Fulton Ave in Grand Rapids, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until May 6. Starting May 7 hours will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.