Donor Stories



Dick Birnbaum & Pam Okano


“I want the staff to pursue the things that normally they wouldn’t have access to — to dream a little bit.”

Dick Birnbaum and Pam Okano first met in a roundabout way because of an Earthwatch Expedition at an orangutan preserve in Indonesian Borneo. Learning through a mutual friend that Dick had previously volunteered at the same preserve, Pam sought him out to hear about his experiences before she went on her expedition.  A love of travel led these two Seattleites to find out that they had much more in common, including volunteering and a deep concern for wildlife and the environment. From then on, they have been inseparable!

Dick recalls coming to Woodland Park Zoo as a young child with his family. Riding the train throughout the grounds and his father’s late-in-life love for the zoo are special memories. In fact, his father’s interest in the zoo’s evolving work eventually led Dick’s parents, sister Ann, and Dick to create the Birnbaum ZooBright Scholarship Fund for the sole purpose of enabling our zoo staff to pursue their special interests, from research projects around the world to local seminars and educational opportunities. “My parents were very generous and this is the way they wanted to pay it forward.” Dick really appreciates the scholarship fund recipients’ talks at the zoo, where they describe what they learned and did as a result of receiving the award. He also believes it’s a terrific way to motivate staff by giving them these opportunities. “I want the staff to pursue the things that normally they wouldn’t have access to — to dream a little bit.”

Pam’s roots at the zoo also go back to early childhood and she currently participates in the selection committee for the scholarship. One of her main zoo highlights was a life-changing trip to Tanzania in 1982 where she could watch wildlife to her heart’s content. “There were so few people there and wide-open spaces — so wonderful to see all different types of animals and birds.” Dick and Pam have also recently been on a zoo tour to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, which they enjoyed immensely. They both wish the zoo would be able to offer more tours like these, led by expert field staff. They have gained so much from these types of incredible travel experiences and are eager to pursue more in the years to come.

As Dick and Pam continue to share about their time with the zoo, it is apparent that they are equally as passionate about the educational programs offered on grounds and out in the community. From our daily early learner programs taking place at Zoomazium, to our outreach efforts with our Ambassador Animals visiting libraries and community centers, to our Family Nature Club working with low income and immigrant populations, they feel the zoo needs to be more outspoken and tell our story loud and clear. “You do so much around educational programming and teaching about conservation and the environment, you need to get the word out there.” We hear you Dick and Pam, and we agree!

Dick is retired from his career in Seattle’s education sector and Pam is planning to retire this year from her longstanding and accomplished professional work as an attorney. Congratulations — we hope that you’ll now be able to spend more time together on conservation trips and being some of our biggest champions. Thank you for your continued dedication, time and innovative ideas for moving us forward, and we will see you both at our next ZooBright lunchtime lecture!


Jill Walker


“I didn’t become a veterinarian or a conservation scientist, but I want to help in my own way.”

Coffee in hand, Jill guides us along to her office at the Starbucks Headquarters, which oddly enough, has some pictures of Godzilla up amongst her travel photos of exotic locales from all corners of the globe. From the first moment you meet Jill, she exudes true warmth and caring, that explains why she is so deeply engaged with Woodland Park Zoo. She speaks fondly about growing up in a home with multiple cats, a hamster and a pet skunk, Chanel (as in No. 5), and how her parents encouraged her to learn how to care for all animals. “Growing up in that environment made it a natural thing — animals were always part of the equation.”

Her love of animals has guided Jill’s life in many ways, including her travel plans. She and her husband, Scott, have taken incredible trips to Egypt, Uganda and South Africa amongst other places. Meeting the people in these beautiful countries and seeing the animals in their wild habitats were experiences she wishes everyone could have, but has also made Jill realize how important it is to tell their stories. She has been able to do this as an advocate for the zoo since her first Jungle Party in 2005. “I didn’t become a veterinarian or a conservation scientist, but I want to help in my own way.” And help she does! Jill has been a huge zoo supporter for more than fifteen years being intensely involved with making our Jungle Party and Thrive events so successful, as well as being a passionate member of the Board of Directors.

Jill has been impressed with how the zoo is such a progressive organization, with our award winning sustainable penguin exhibit and LEED certified Zoomazium children’s learning space. “I think more people need to know about the work that the zoo does and how they are evolving and reaching towards a holistic change.” Jill talks about how there are many organizations who do a great job of advocating for wildlife conservation, but that the zoo is one of the most accessible places to learn how you can make an impact. “There’s a connection when people come to the zoo and I think that gives them more of a say when it comes to protecting wildlife habitats.” Jill says she has seen the powerful bond that our zookeepers have with the animals they care for, especially with one of her favorite animals, the hippos. “There’s recognition, and a love and respect between the keepers and the animals, it’s incredible to watch.” Jill wants to keep telling her story about the zoo and the crucial conservation work we are doing to whoever will listen. She’s known as “Jungle Party Jill” at work and loves to introduce people to the zoo through their biggest fundraiser.

When she’s not being a Starbucks executive extraordinaire or wildlife advocate, Jill has been known to indulge in sports cars. She always wanted to be a racecar driver but wholeheartedly insists that she obeys the speed limit. And what about those Godzilla pictures hanging in her office?  Well, apparently they are a reference to a friendly family nickname with a tale all of its own that we’ll save for another time.

Thank you for continuing to tell our zoo story and for your support of our work; we are definitely a big fan Jill (a.k.a. Godzilla)!


Theresa Hebert & Larry Crozier


“We have fun each year thinking of different things for the auction that would really grab people’s attention.”

Driving in from their home in Auburn after a morning of gardening, Theresa and Larry are happy to sit down for our lunch meeting. They have been busy preparing their flowers and plants for the upcoming colder weather and share their recent experience with the Mason bees they had introduced to their yard over the past season. They enjoy the time spent on their property feeding all types of local birds.

Theresa and Larry originally became involved with Woodland Park Zoo through The Boeing Company, where they both worked for many years. They attended their first Jungle Party in 2000 and have been hooked ever since. “We have fun each year thinking of different things for the auction that would really grab people’s attention.” Everything from distinct pieces of metal artwork, to stays at Treehouse Point (owned by Pete Nelson of Treehouse Masters HGTV fame), to trips to their own VRBO home in Kodiak, Alaska and a family condo in Cozumel, Mexico—Theresa and Larry are up for it! And they have been incredibly successful each year with these items attracting high bidders and raising much needed funds for the zoo to support our 1,200 animals and environmental education programs.

When asked about their favorite zoo memories, Larry talks about the summer Zootunes concerts and how thrilling it was to see the von Trapp’s (great-grandchildren of Maria) performing with the Pink Martini band. “It was so great to be outside and enjoy the music !” Theresa recalls the behind the scenes tour with the snow leopards and tigers as one of her top highlights. Hearing the stories of each animal and learning about their individual personalities from the zookeepers really showed her how dedicated the staff are with the work they do every day. She comments on the time and patience it must take to learn these distinct differences between each of our three Malayan tiger brothers; Liam, Eko and Olan.

In addition to gardening as a pastime, Larry and Theresa create beautiful canoes by hand. One they built specifically for the zoo was modelled on a design from the 1880’s with a combination of red cedar, Honduran and African mahogany, cherry, and Alaskan yellow cedar. The skill and artistry shown in “The Prospector” was truly appreciated by the attendees at that year’s auction as this was another generous gift from Larry and Theresa to the zoo. Their enthusiasm and genuine interest in how they can help to make the zoo a better place and keep it moving forward, really shines through each year.

Amongst their many diverse interests is exploring different countries and learning about their cultures , having visited such far-reaching destinations as Moscow, Shanghai, and Bucharest. They also co-host neighborhood parties and create various paella dishes large enough to keep everyone happy. Our CEO, Alejandro Grajal, is also a bit of a paella connoisseur himself!

Thank you for being such incredible supporters of our zoo Theresa and Larry, and perhaps a friendly paella cook-off is in order sometime in the near future?


Diane Shrewsbury


“I get to see the work involved, and how much it takes to provide the care that the zookeepers give each day.”

Diane Shrewsbury lives near the water in Edmonds just north of Seattle and has spent a good part of her life surrounded by water. She and her husband, Bob, own and operate the Western Towboat Company, which makes trips up the Pacific Coast to Alaska. Diane shares fond memories of taking her three young children on these runs and the fun they had as a family out on the open straits. Now Russell, Ross and Kristin have children of their own and Diane is busy with her grandchildren, whether it be organizing elaborate Halloween parties or special birthday events. Speaking of birthdays, Diane now has three new grandchildren who all have the same birthdate in November. We are guessing that’s going to be a busy month for her from now on!

More than three decades ago, Diane was introduced to Woodland Park Zoo through her close friend, Carol Hosford, and soon became a dedicated volunteer. This up close experience with the animals has driven her passion for animal welfare. “I get to see the work involved, and how much it takes to provide the care that the zookeepers give each day.” Diane feels strongly that it is a large part of her role to let people know what goes on behind the scenes and the immense dedication demonstrated by zoo staff. She also praises the outreach, and school and early learner programs offered at the zoo. These are staff that really want to deliver the message of conservation and do it in a way that everyone can relate to. Diane has made the zoo a part of her life and says the people have been a key reason. “The relationships I’ve formed are priceless—they are like family to me now.”

Diane has also been an integral member of the Board of Directors and has worked on numerous zoo events throughout the years. Donating two tugboat trips to Alaska each year for the Jungle Party auction is one of the many ways that Diane and Bob support the zoo’s conservation work. She believes that younger people, the next generation, need to start getting involved with the zoo and its mission. Diane is thrilled that the Network for Nature, the zoo’s young professionals group, has been formed this past year. It’s important to have innovative ideas coming in to keep the progress of the zoo moving forward. Carrying on the family connection to the zoo, Diane’s daughter Kristin, is now the Member Engagement and Recruitment Co-Chair of this group and is working to spread the word to other millennials.

Along with being an animal welfare advocate and devoted family person, Diane is an ardent traveler. From Hawaii, to Alaska to Europe, it is another of her life’s passions. But one unexpected destination she recounts was her trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on the back of a Harley Davidson! It’s a gathering of thousands of riders and concert goers in Sturgis, South Dakota every summer. Bob is a Harley enthusiast and it’s something they like to do together. “It was a lot of fun!”, Diane says with the biggest smile on her face.

We are grateful for all of your work and support Diane, and thank you for always keeping us guessing!


Gary Kunis


Gary is passionate about supporting civic institutions that present innovative learning opportunities to the greater community.

Gary Kunis is the kind of person who says it like it is with no holds barred. He is the one person you would want on your side, no matter what the cause. The type of person who fights for what he believes in and who will take the tough stance. Lucky for us at Woodland Park Zoo, he believes in the work we do every day to save animals and their habitats, and to educate as many people as possible along the way.

Gary rose to the top of his field in technology at the Digital Equipment Corporation, The Boeing Company, and Cisco Systems, Inc. He helped build Cisco into the industry leader in its field, performing numerous roles across various company sectors and theater geographies, including Vice President and Chief Science Officer. Throughout his career, he has enjoyed such highlights as designing the NASA Program Support Communications Network Internet, contributing extensively on US Department of Defense projects, and playing an integral part in bringing the internet to the Northwest (from Alaska to Oregon, and out to North Dakota), and designing leading edge Internetworking and Operating Systems software. He has interacted with numerous tech luminaries known the world over for their innovation and philanthropy. Gary utilized his connections on the zoo’s behalf, facilitating a Wi-Fi network product grant in 2016 from Cisco that enabled the zoo to improve our visitor experience considerably as we reimagine the zoo experiences of the 21st Century.

When not pursuing other entrepreneurial interests, Gary is passionate about supporting civic institutions that present innovative learning opportunities to the greater community. He thinks the positive zoo environment fosters a natural atmosphere for learning. He knows that children grasp onto new ideas when concepts are brought to life outside school settings. Exposing more children from wider and more diverse populations to the wonders of wildlife and the science of their habitats is an area in which Gary wants to focus his efforts. Through further community engagement and outreach using such necessary social inclusion tools as translation and cultural awareness, he knows the zoo can have an even larger impact. On this path, Gary believes the zoo can become a conservation education thought leader and one of the foremost entities of change.

In his spare time, which there doesn't appear to be much of, Gary is a self-proclaimed explorer and incredibly talented photographer. On travels to everywhere from the Galapagos Islands, to Hong Kong, to Spain, Gary has the eye to capture breathtaking images. His photos of both animals in the wild and daily life in myriad cultures are stunning and truly depict fascinating moments in time that completely absorb the viewer. Gary is an incredible philanthropist to have as a partner on our journey and we are grateful for his involvement with Woodland Park Zoo. He’s the advocate we need to tell our stories and support our work to change the world. Thank you Gary, for being a tireless champion who makes our community even better for all people.


Bob Plotnick & Gay Jensen


“I was like a groupie with the zookeeper, asking him a million questions. I’m sure he wondered who in the world I was!”

Gay Jensen and Bob Plotnick definitely know their zoos. They have explored quite a few throughout their travels across the U.S.–from the Denver Zoo, to Albuquerque’s ABQ Bio Park, to New York’s Bronx Zoo. Gay and Bob make it a point to seek out accredited zoos and aquariums wherever they go. But Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is still their favorite!

Gay became fascinated with Matschie’s tree kangaroos when she saw them for the first time at WPZ. Bob arranged a special tour of the tree kangaroo exhibit and dedicated a bench at the zoo to celebrate Gay’s 50th birthday, and she was hooked after that. “I was like a groupie with the zookeeper, asking him a million questions. I’m sure he wondered who in the world I was!” Gay said that having an expert to answer her questions was thrilling. She found that the more she learned about tree kangaroos, the more she wanted to know.

Discovering that tree kangaroos are endangered mostly due to habitat loss and illegal poaching, Gay and Bob have been keen supporters of Lisa Dabek and the award winning Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program she founded and leads—largely through endowment contributions. Working in partnership with rural communities in Papua New Guinea, the program is succeeding in protecting Matschie’s tree kangaroos’ habitat and improving the lives of local people.

Although Gay has a special soft spot for tree kangaroos, Bob’s animals of choice are exotic birds and pheasants. He loves to spend time in one of our many aviaries, particularly the Conservation Aviary and the Tropical Rainforest Aviary. Bob has supported the hornbill projects through the zoo in Thailand and Borneo, which help protect the birds from poachers and restore their nesting habitat.

Bob spent his professional life researching social policy, with his most recent position as a professor at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. He has held many highly respected roles in academia.  Bob was particularly happy to spend a sabbatical at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia because it had the added bonus of allowing him access to the incredible varieties of birds found throughout the Australian landscape.

Gay enjoys a successful career as a professional fiber artist.  Her artwork has been exhibited widely and she has received numerous awards for her beautiful pieces. In addition to teaching classes in fiber art techniques, Gay has served as a juror for many prestigious art shows.

Both Gay and Bob are pleased with the way our zoo has evolved over the years with fantastic naturalistic habitats such as the Northern Trail for our North American species, and its messages about conservation locally and around the globe. They appreciate the dedication and compassion of our staff who work so diligently to provide the best care for our 1,200 animals.

We would like to thank you Gay and Bob, for your devotion and commitment to getting the message out about our local and global conservation work. And yes Gay, we may yet “borrow” your idea of creating an Official Tree Kangaroo Fan Club!