OKC ZOO ANNOUNCES 2013 EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR, SERVICE AWARDS - 01 14
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 20, 2014
CONTACTS: Tara Henson (405) 425-0219, (405) 919-9038, cell or [email protected]
Candice Rennels (405) 425-0298, (405) 412-6172, cell or [email protected]
OKLAHOMA CITY ZOO ANNOUNCES EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR AND SERVICE AWARDS FOR 2013
The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Interim Director Alan Varsik recently announced the Oklahoma City Zoo’s Ralph D. Harris Employee of the Year, Elizabeth (Liz) McCrae.
McCrae received a bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Ohio State University and worked at the Columbus Zoo as a seasonal zoo keeper. She moved to Tulsa in 2002 to attend Tulsa Community College, where she earned an associates degree of veterinary technology. She began working at the Tulsa Zoo in 2006 as a registered veterinary technician, routinely caring for quarantined and hospital care patients, along with conducting medical procedures and lab work. In March 2009, McCrae began working at the OKC Zoo as a registered veterinary technician.
“I was always interested in working in a zoo environment,” said McCrae. “Besides the technical aspects of veterinary medicine, I enjoy working with the incredible diversity of animal species and learning something new every day. In a sense, a vet tech is an advocate for animals that can’t communicate like humans. We have to figure out why they may be hurting or sick and address it appropriately all within the parameters of physical safety that a human physician may not have to consider. I was honored to accept the Employee of the Year award, but behind every awesome vet is a more awesome vet support staff. I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t work with such a great team.”
“McCrae is an exemplary veterinary technician and an asset to the Oklahoma City Zoo,” said Jennifer D’Agostino, Zoo director of veterinary services. “She consistently shows the highest standard of technical skills, hospital management, and planning. She has an exceptional ability to anticipate the needs of the department and possible obstacles, and regularly prepares days in advance for medical procedures.”
In addition to her daily duties at the Zoo, McCrae has been integral in creating standard operating procedures, a preventative health database, a response kit for elephant herpes virus, and a hematology database.
McCrae works to maintain and improve fiscal responsibility and has been instrumental in the growth of departmental duties through the planning and construction of the Zoo’s new veterinary hospital. She also works closely with local health facilities to collaborate on diagnoses and treatment options.
McCrae is currently working to become one of the first board certified veterinary technicians in zoo medicine. She is a member of the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians where she has served on the Laurie Page-Peck Scholarship committee and as assistant editor for its annual conference. She serves on the Zoo’s Management Advisory Council and was recently elected secretary. Married for three years to husband Glenn, manager of the Zoo’s food and beverage department, they enjoy sports and activities with family and friends.
The Zoo also recently recognized five employees for 30 years of service: Edith Siemens, horticulture and grounds supervisor; Barbara McFadden, Children’s Zoo zookeeper; Brad Compton, animal technician; Gerald Krausz, animal dietician supervisor; and Gary Howard, security team member.
For Edith Siemens, the love of nature—creating it, protecting it, restoring it—began at an early age. She was born in Ault, Colorado, just 30 miles east of the Rocky Mountain National Park where her family spent many weekends camping along the Cache la Poudre River. After she grew up and met her husband, Bill, in Greeley, Colorado, they moved to Oklahoma, living first in Ada before moving to the big “city.” As Edith began raising their two children, she worked at the Oklahoma City Zoo on a part-time basis for two dollars an hour.
“In the early 80s, the horticulture department was a small group of people,” Siemens said. “We were busy picking up trash, taking care of native landscape and creating compost piles off Zoo grounds.” By 1987, Siemens had acclimated to Oklahoma’s terrain, grown to love the Zoo environment and begun working full time in the Horticulture department. Her service to the Zoo that year earned her Employee of the Year.
Today, Siemens and the horticulture team maintain and beautify the 119 acres comprising Zoo grounds. Siemens helps maintain seasonal plants, trees and flowers for the grounds and animal habitats; cares for rare and threatened plant collections; and designs landscapes for Zoo exhibits and events. She helped the Zoo receive accreditation from the America Association of Museums as both a museum and a botanical garden in 1998, a distinction held by less than a dozen zoos nationwide. She has assisted with Zoo habitats that emulate Asia, Africa and other international settings while accommodating the temperamental weather of Oklahoma. She helped the Zoo’s Butterfly Garden become the largest of its kind in the state of Oklahoma. When the Zoo created the expansive Oklahoma Trails habitat in 2007, her design work helped to emulate Oklahoma’s native plant life and ensured that proper vegetation would sustain the diversity of native animals.
“I have been so fortunate to work with horticulturists who have shared their knowledge, skills and talents that inspired me to embrace zoo horticulture,” Siemens said. “I love being surrounded by beautiful plant collections and exotic animals.”
Barbara McFadden’s appreciation for and road to the zoo environment began as she grew up in the Midwest state of Iowa, bordered by the Mississippi River. McFadden’s early years in Iowa prepared her for the harsh winters and fickle climate of tornado-alley Oklahoma. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Northeast Missouri University in 1972 and she joined the Peace Corps for a two-year stent in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she witnessed the beauty of the native animals and landscape. Upon returning to the United States in 1974, McFadden worked at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas, for two years and then taught adults, inner-city youth and children in various educational and church settings in Kansas, Nebraska and Florida. By late 1982, McFadden was ready to put “roots down” and returned to the zoo community in Oklahoma by joining the Children’s Zoo team, which has been her key position for 30 years.
During her tenure, McFadden helped raise more than 250 animals. She especially enjoyed the nursery setting where, in the early part of her career, Zoo guests and children could get a glimpse of the baby animals through a viewing window. As a Keeper Connections’ presenter, she has inspired numerous children during the weekly demonstrations and has cared for a variety of animals for the Zoo’s educational classes.
Growing up on a farm in southern Illinois in the 1960s and being one of six children meant things were a little “wild” for Gerald Krausz. Being outdoors raising horses, cattle and pigs helped prepare Krausz for his life’s work at the Zoo. After graduating from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in animal industries and a minor in business at age 23, he answered a newspaper ad that led him to the Oklahoma City Zoo where he began working as an animal dietician in 1983. Today, he is an animal dietician supervisor and plans, orders, inventories and prepares the specialized and diverse diets of the Zoo’s animal residents.
“Our animal residents have to eat whether the Zoo is open or not. It’s a big job,” Krausz said. “But it has been rewarding to know that my job, along with the excellent health care of our veterinarian team, is key to sustaining our healthy animal collection.”
Krausz’s department receives food daily from local produce companies, national distributors and from the Zoo’s own browse garden, a section of the Zoo that is farmed for special, or enrichment, food. Krausz enjoys some of the unusual animal diets, such as preparing a daily smoothie of meat and fruit for the maned wolf. He looks forward to the opening of the Zoo’s new animal hospital this year and the new technologies that will help streamline diet inventory systems.
Brad Compton grew up in southern Indiana and graduated with a degree in education from Indiana University. After college, Compton got his professional start at the Sunset Zoo. From there, Compton traveled south to Oklahoma, taking a position as a children’s home counselor. Compton then decided to combine his experiences working with children and the zoo environment, and accepted a position in the Zoo’s Children’s Zoo in 1983.
“Back then, we hand-reared a lot of animals in the nursery,” Compton said, as he recounts having helped hand-raise the firstborn baby of a chimp named Suzy at the Sunset Zoo. Ironically, another offspring of Suzy, named Siri, came to live at the OKC Zoo last year. “It was special to see Siri get off to a good start here at the Zoo since I had worked with her sibling years ago.”
Today, Compton is an animal technician in the isolation area, where animals live for a standard 30-day quarantine period when they arrive at the Zoo. He ensures that the new animals are physically healthy and develops a bond, or trust, with them that often begins a life-long relationship with Zoo keepers and the public sector. “Establishing trust with a new animal is both challenging and rewarding,” Compton said. “We build it slowly so that they allow us to enhance their lives with training and enrichment activities.”
Compton also enjoys interacting with students in the Junior Curator program, which are teens who volunteer their time to work in and learn about many aspects of a zoo environment.
Originally from New York, Gary Howard came to the Oklahoma City Zoo in August 1983 after serving three tours in Vietnam and working several jobs controlled by unions. Wanting a fresh start, he decided that Florida, Oklahoma and Texas were the three best states in which to raise a family. He played a “flip the quarter” game and, as luck would have it, Oklahoma came out on top.
Howard began his now 30-year career at the Zoo as a custodial supervisor before transferring to the security department, where he has served as chief of security, supervisor and interim security supervisor.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years,” Howard said. “In the early 80s, we didn’t have night zoo keepers, so the security staff would feed and take care of the newborn animals at night. We had more land to patrol and the homes of the Zoo director and assistant director were located on the property. Even the veterinarians had apartments on grounds.”
Today, because of advanced training, Howard and other security personnel can assist guests with minor medical situations and play a key role in the Zoo’s emergency response protocol. Howard’s son, Joel, also works in the Zoo’s security department.
“The Zoo has become my home away from home,” Howard said. “I’d like to stay here another 30 years and see all the big projects get finished. I can’t think of another place I’d rather be. Employees come and go and move on, but I have wanted to be the best person at my job regardless of my title. The best advice I have for job security today is whatever you do, do it better than the next person might.”
Come on, the wild is calling! Oklahoma’s number one attraction, the Oklahoma City Zoo, is located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35 in Oklahoma City’s Adventure District. Zoo hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Buildings close at 4:45 p.m. daily. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 3 to 11 and $5 for seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. Are you a Zoo fan? Find us at www.facebook.com/okczoobg. To learn more about these and other happenings, call (405) 424-3344 or visit www.okczoo.com.