I attended a very special memorial last night. Fred D’Aquin a beloved zoo volunteer of 18 years passed away on May 27. He was 78 years old. Last night, after the animals were put away for the evening and the guests were all gone, the people and family that knew and loved Fred came together at picnic tables in the zoo to talk about the little man that had a special way with camels and Barasinga (an Indian deer).
Zookeepers, volunteers and family gathered over martinis and red beans and rice (Fred’s favorite foods) and shared stories about a man who volunteered 40 hours a week and made a special impact not only on the young people he worked with, but the animals that fell under his care. Fred started in the Audubon Zoo Volunteer program when he was 60 years old. He always had loved nature and was seeking something else to do after retirement. He worked a couple different sections in the zoo, but found his home in the Asian Domain section. Here he worked with Asian elephants, tigers, lions, Amur leopards, camels and the Barasinga deer. He radiated a special calm that the larger animals were drawn to. The keepers came to depend on him as a regular staff member and you didn’t think of the “AD” staff without thinking of the spry little old man with glasses and a goatee that worked by their sides.
Last night, one by one, zookeepers stood to tell a “Fred story”. Fred had a wicked sense of humor and loved to be in on pranks. One particularly is a classic.
Fred was terrified of snakes. One day a keeper hid a rubber snake in the hay to scare Fred. Fred saw him put the snake in the hay. An hour later when all the keepers were coming into the section another employee came running up, yelling “Where is that ambulance?! Fred is down, Fred is down!” The keepers ran into the yard and Fred was laying on the ground with his shirt open and the zoo paramedic working on him. Fred weakly uttered, “Snake.” The keeper who hid the rubber snake was now white and speechless. Fred kept getting weaker and uttering, “Deadly snake.” The keeper was beside himself. Finally Fred slowly stood up, oxygen mask hanging from his face, walked over to the prankster and said “Don’t mess with the master.”
There were many stories like that and I knew it was an evening that Fred would have loved. He was more than a volunteer; he was part of the close knit family of zoo keepers and animals that make zoos special places. Thank you Fred and put in a good word with the “Big Guy” for all the animals that need it here now.
For more information on being a Zoo Volunteer call 504-212-5377.
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