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In 1914 — 105 years ago — the Henry Vilas Zoological Society was formed to support and guide the newly created Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison.

Since then, every major building at the Henry Vilas Zoo has been funded and supported by the society. Everywhere you look as you walk the grounds, you see ways that five generations of volunteers, donors and the society have positively impacted the zoo. Those volunteers, donors and staff have poured their hearts and souls into supporting this organization and our community, and now we close that chapter on a high note.

The accomplishments of the past few years stand out, not only because of the national award-winning impact on the zoo, but because of the achievements of the society’s staff, which include:

  • Over $17 million in 10 years of direct funding support to the zoo. This does not include the investment by the society made to run all the events, rides, fundraising, education, food and beverage, and retail operations of the Henry Vilas Zoo.
  • Completion of successful, back-to-back capital campaigns for the Animal Health Center, Arctic Passage, Wisconsin Heritage Exhibit and the Evjue Foundation Visitors Center.
  • Establishment of the society’s endowment and operating reserve to support and protect the long-term future of the zoo.
  • Creation of a vibrant community organization bringing together over 600 volunteers and people from all walks of life through jobs for teens and events and activities designed to support the zoo and serve our community and attract thousands of guests from across the region, including Zoo Lights, Rendez-Zoo, Zoo Run Run and many others.

As we prepare to leave the Henry Vilas Zoo we’ve called home for more than a century, we leave proud of our legacy, and proud of the ways we have touched our community. And while we are leaving the zoo grounds, we are not leaving our community. While the exact fashion of our future remains to be seen and will be determined by our dedicated board of directors, the Henry Vilas Zoological Society will continue to play a positive role in the community we love.

The vision of the founders of the society, including the Vilas family and the early leaders of America’s conservation movement, was larger than life. We will remain faithful to that great community vision.

Prange is the president of the Henry Vilas Zoological Society.

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