Tears came to Gretchen Ziegler’s eyes as she remembered a longtime friend at the Sequoia Park Zoo on Sunday.
“It’s amazing how sometimes that grief pops up,” said Ziegler, the zoo’s manager.
A memorial garden was dedicated to a past favorite zoo resident, Bill the chimp, on Sunday as part of the zoo’s centennial celebration.
Bill was a member of the zoo for 50 years and died at age 62 in June.
A memory book was available for visitors to sign their names with messages to Bill.
Wayne M. Anderson signed Bill’s memory book and smiled while remembering the animal he considered to be a part of his family.
“His gentle nature showed me where my humanity ended and where his humanity began,” Anderson said, donning a top hat and Bill the chimp T-shirt.
One entry said, “Bill you were my life. I miss you.”
As some area residents can attest, Bill was known to occasionally throw feces at visitors.
An entry recalled one such occasion: “Bill, I remember you smeared poop on my mom. Thanks.”
Ziegler said the feces incidents were, in fact, true.
“Oh yes, many, many times. It was his way of getting a reaction,” she said.
Cecily Olsen, 16, of Eureka, said she remembered Bill being artistic. She said her family acquired a picture he painted.
“Bill has been a part of my life since I was born,” Olsen said. “It surprised me how creative an animal could be.”
Tranquil music welcomed more than 100 people to the event that featured zoo keeper talks and free birthday cake from Ramone’s Bakery.
Jeff Lamoree, president of the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation, said the zoo property was sold to the city of Eureka by the Glatt family in 1907.
The land was originally supposed to be a cemetery, but instead was established as a zoo.
Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass read the proclamation for the zoo’s centennial dedicating the memorial garden to Bill the chimp.
“I kept looking at Bill’s exhibit and the things people left for him. It’s just so touching,” she said. “It’s hard to not get teary-eyed; Bill was a part of our life.”
Lamoree said memorial bricks used in front of Bill’s garden were sold to community members for $50 each to help pay for the garden, which cost $15,000 to build.
The garden features a mural of trees, a statue of Bill with a fountain and a graphic history of Bill’s life and of the last 100 years at the zoo.
The zoo’s master plan was also featured in the exhibit and showed upcoming developments planned for the next 20 years.
Ziegler said it was amazing to see how many people came to the event and had connected with Bill.
“It’s true how very special Bill was,” Ziegler said. “We do miss him a lot.”