Potawatomi Zoological Society

Potawatomi Zoo Directors

  • Craig Mccowan - 1971-1984
  • John Chapo - 1984-1985
  • Phillip Frost - 1985-1989
  • Johnny Martinez - 1990-1997
  • Vickie Roth - 1997-2000
  • Clarence Wright - 2001-2002
  • Greg Bockheim - 2003-2006
  • Terry Derosa - 2007-2011
  • Marcy Dean - 2014 to present

History Of The Potawatomi Zoological Society

In 1970 progress toward the formation of a Zoological Society was in full swing with the help of the Jayshe’s. Committees were formed to create the charter, by-laws, and structure/mission, of the organization. By July 1971 this was accomplished. The original name of the society was the St. Joseph Valley Friends of the Zoo. Ernest Litweiler was the first Board President. Mr. Litweiler was a biology teacher at Adams High School.

The St. Joseph Valley Friends of the Zoo became an integral part of the renovations that took place in the mid 70'’ that changed the zoo from a menagerie/collection of animals into a modern zoo with larger spaces for animals.

The Society hired Zooplan Associates of Wichita, Kansas to develop a master plan in 1973. IN 1977 the passage of a $1.5 million bond issue allowed for a much needed renovation and expansion of the zoo. In 1979 the Education center was built and the first phase of the master plan was completed which included chimpanzee island, the lion and bear grottos, and the Eurasian and African wild yards.

In August of 1985 the name of the Society was changed to the Potawatomi Zoological Society, Inc. The Zoo Society helped to fund a new Zoo Farm that was completed in 1988.

In 1994 after 20 years of the Society managing the Gift Shop and Zoo Concessions, the management of these areas was shifted to the Zoo, allowing the revenues generated from these facilities to be used for the operational cost of the zoo.

Potawatomi Zoological Society projects have included the Chimpanzee Exhibit (1995), Asian Carnivores (1998), and Alligator (1999).

The Society’s next project was the Veterinary Hospital, which was completed in May of 2002 at a cost of $1.1 million.

In 2004, the Zoo Society’s largest project in over 20 years, the Zoo Train opened with great popularity during the annual Zoo-Boo (Halloween) event. The Zoo Train continues to fund new exhibits and renovate existing exhibits through ticket purchase.

The Zoo Society continued to work with the zoo to fund exhibits, enrich the lives of the animals and provide funding to educate zoo staff. The society, which hired Marcy Dean in 2006, as the Society Director, underwent major fund development and marketing planning for 2009 and beyond. This included the addition of a adopt-an-animal program, the re-introduction of the bricks sale, and future plans for planned giving and an endowment.

On January 1, 2014 the Zoological Society entered into a public/private partnership with the City of South Bend, transferring the zoo's day-to-day operations and management to the Zoo Society. Under this new leadership model the Zoo Society has been able to streamline operations, look at ways to increase the overall guest experience and improve the zoo. 

Also in 2014, the Potawatomi Zoo embarked on the development of a strategic master plan to create a long-term vision for the future of the Zoo. The Zoo engaged Zoo Advisors and GLMV Architecture, Inc. to conduct a multi-phase project, which took place during 2014-2015 and included an assessment of the site and facilities, an exploration of opportunities, and a refinement of priorities. The planning team included representatives from Zoo leadership, the Board and staff members.

Over the last several years, the Zoo has enjoyed growing attendance, increased revenue, and additions to its animal collection. In order to continue this positive momentum and harness the energy and excitement around the Zoo, a compelling vision for the future needed to be put forward. This strategic master plan does just that, laying out a series of facility and exhibit improvements which will transform the Zoo, establishing it as a premier regional player in the zoo industry and making it a must-see destination.

The first phase of the Master Plan broke ground in the fall of 2015 with the Endangered Speices Carousel located at the front enterance. The addition of the carousel, opening spring 2016, will transform the front of the Zoo and bring excitment for years to come.

To learn more about the Potawatomi Zoo's Master Plan click here. To find ways you can help support the Zoo visit our Support The Zoo page.