Can-do attitude built children's zoo, spread around town

Early education
Early education
The first modest Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne building is shown in this 1965 photo. Today, the campus provides instruction to about 10,000 students annually. IPFW was but one of many cultural achievements of the can-do '60s.
By KEVIN KILBANE of The News-Sentinel

When Earl Wells arrived in Fort Wayne in 1964, the site of the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo looked like a gigantic mud hole.

Construction crews had started preliminary earth-moving and utilities work to shape the former bird sanctuary at Franke Park into the zoo grounds. But what impressed Wells, who had just been hired as zoo director, was the community support.

People from all walks of life – from wealthy business leaders and corporate executives, to construction workers and schoolchildren – donated money, materials and labor to build the zoo, which opened July 3, 1965.

"I think the community spirit that thing generated is one of the things I have enjoyed most,'' recalled Wells, who retired in late 1994 after 30 years as zoo director. "I think the community began to believe in themselves more because it worked.''

From a seasonal operation that bought its animals in the spring and sold them off in the fall, the zoo has grown into one of the top attractions in Indiana, drawing about 500,000 visitors annually. The zoo, which remains self-supporting, also takes a leading role in wildlife conservation and education.

The can-do attitude that built the zoo also spread to other cultural efforts during the 1960s.

The campus of what is now Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne opened in fall 1964 on Coliseum Boulevard East. The downtown branch of the Allen County Public Library was dedicated in August 1968, replacing the cramped Carnegie Library that had stood on the corner of Webster and Wayne streets since 1904. The first Three Rivers Festival opened in July 1969 with a shootout on the St. Joseph River staged by actors portraying American Indians and white settlers.

IPFW now provides instruction to about 10,000 students annually. The public library has continued expanding its nationally renowned genealogy collection and has moved quickly into the digital age. The Three Rivers Festival now brings out hundreds of thousands of people to celebrate summer with a parade, wacky races, entertainment and a smorgasbord of junk-food favorites.

Like the zoo, these legacies of '60s community spirit continue to shape and enhance Fort Wayne life.

unction(w,d,s,l,i){w[l]=w[l]||[];w[l].push({'gtm.start': new Date().getTime(),event:'gtm.js'});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], j=d.createElement(s),dl=l!='dataLayer'?'&l='+l:'';j.async=true;j.src= 'https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtm.js?id='+i+dl;f.parentNode.insertBefore(j,f); })(window,document,'script','dataLayer','GTM-KVWHXLX'); Contact Us | FortWayne.com