Describe your job: I manage the Grassmere Historic Farm at the Nashville Zoo, which includes a ca. 1810 historic house museum with 95 percent original belongings, the outbuildings (smokehouse, kitchen, carriage barn, plus a family cemetery), and the livestock barn which houses heritage breeds of cattle and chickens, along with a mule and goat. I supervise a staff of four and oversee a large volunteer group that maintains the heirloom organic garden behind the home. I wear many different hats: zookeeper, grant writer, public relations, liaison, historian, public speaker, supervisor, etc. And I love it! It’s never boring!
How long have you been in the position? I started at the Nashville Zoo in July 1995 as an animal keeper after 12 years as a keeper at Topeka Zoological Park. In 1999, I became Barn Manager when we opened the Grassmere Historic Farm area of the Zoo. In 2001, the historic Croft House came under my care, and I took on the title of Historic Farm Manager.
What in your background helped you get the job? I have an Associate’s Degree in Natural Sciences and over 25 years experience as a keeper. When we decided to build the Historic Farm section of the Zoo, I mentioned to my supervisor that I may be interested in that position. It would have moved me away from exotics, but it also would be a step up into a supervisory role. I’m thankful to have been given the position! I have always loved history but have never had any formal training or experience in that field. When the Croft House became part of my area to oversee, I relied on local and national historic organizations to assist me in learning what I needed to know. I am a current member of the Tennessee Association of Museums and the Inter-Museum Council of Nashville, and have presented two sessions at past TAM conferences.
What’s your favorite thing about job? Everything! I love that people come to the Zoo and want to learn about its history. I love telling people why we have a zoo on 180 acres in the middle of Nashville. I love hearing children say they’ve never been this close to a cow before, and then learning about milk and meat production, and the fact these things don’t come from a grocery store. I love the fact we are still learning about the family that gave the land to the city of Nashville. And I love the fact that we still have 90 acres of undeveloped land to continue to build a first-class zoo on in the years to come. That’s probably the most exciting, all the potential!
Describe a favorite memory/experience in your current position: We had a Percheron draft horse that we sadly recently lost to age-related illness. She was literally the perfect horse. I remember very vividly the first time an electric wheelchair approached her while the horse was standing in an area being groomed before being let out to pasture. This grooming time was when visitors could come close, pet the horse, ask questions, and take pictures. This was the first time an electric wheelchair had come up to her. I was afraid she would shy away, or become anxious, but she stood very calmly and patiently until the chair was right in front of her. The young girl in the chair, probably nine years old and with cerebral palsy, clearly loved horses, and also clearly hadn’t been that close to such a big animal before. Her eyes were huge and she couldn’t speak, she was so in awe. I asked her if she would like to pet Molly (the horse) and she nodded. So, taking the cue from Molly and her calm demeanor, I helped the girl inch her chair right up next to Molly’s legs so she could reach out and pet her on the shoulder and chest. When I looked over at her mother, her mother was in tears. The girl was extremely happy and elated, and Molly never flinched. Her mother told me later that her daughter had always dreamed of being able to pet a horse, but had never had the opportunity due to her chair. We had made her dream come true. Really, it doesn’t get much better.
Do you have a favorite animal? Why is it your favorite? I can’t play favorites! They all have such distinct personalities and quirks. They’re all my favorites!