Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | Ever wonder how places that survive on charitable donations manage to raise all that money? Most of us are besieged by endless pleas for donations, some asking for as little as $25. Most of us ignore all the suggested amounts, check “other” on the request form, and send them five or 10 bucks. Then we wonder if they will spend it wisely.

But how about the big shooters, those who donate millions? Surely, with so much money at stake, those donors look for something in return: advertisement, good will, government influence . . . something. After all, people don’t become rich by just giving money away. Here is a different tale of how one big benefactor to the San Diego Zoo came to be a benefactor in the first place.

That zoo is a wonder. Bertha and I have been going to it since we first stepped foot in San Diego in 1958. And why not? It was, and still is, among the best entertainment bargains in town. A bargain is important to a sailor with a family.

We discovered the place early on, and on many a weekend we’d tote the entire family out there for a day. We went so often we became experts. When guests from Indiana or Maine came visiting we knew exactly where the different animals were and just how to negotiate the wandering paths to get to them.

Then, kids gone and grandkids growing up, we stayed away – until last week. Boy had they changed the place! The brand new Joan B. Kroc’s Monkey Trails and Forest Tales rambled back and forth through an assortment of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

For a while I thought I had made friends with a great ape. I suspect I reminded him of the erstwhile escape artist, orangutan Ken Allen, because I was on the outside and he on the inside. In an attempt to bridge the culture gap between closely related primates, when he scratched, I also scratched myself. He stared at me then turned his back. I must have broken some great ape taboo.

The new exhibit cost $28.5 million. Joan Kroc’s name was put on it because she bequeathed $10 million to it when she died. Ten mil is a ton of money and the zoo will certainly put it to good use to educate the public to the need to preserve our relatives in the animal kingdom.

But far from being a self-serving donation, Mrs. Kroc’s generosity was rooted in simple compassion. According to a Lionel Van Deerlin op-ed in the San Diego Tribune several years ago, it started with a bird with a broken wing. Joan saw the injured creature on her lawn. She gathered it up and called the zoo. Could they fix the bird’s wing? Perhaps the Kroc name impressed them, perhaps not, but they told her to bring it in and they’d do what they could.

Seldom has a hobbled avian creature had such a fancy conveyance, albeit non-flying conveyance. It was hustled off to the zoo’s veterinarian hospital in a chauffeured Rolls Royce.

Some time later the zoo announced the bird had recovered and was released back to the wild, or at least to the wild streets of San Diego. Joan is said to have asked if there was anything she could do for the zoo.

Was there ever. The zoo spends big bucks and always needs more. According to some sources, she wrote out a check for 10 grand and sent it to the zoo. According to others, it was $100,000. Whatever, it was small potatoes to what was coming. Once when she heard about the shoddy living conditions of the tigers, she gave the place $3.3 million.

Keith Taylor is a retired Navy officer living in Chula Vista, Calif. He can be reached at

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