As a point of reference, I have often used the Brookfield Zoo to explain to those not familiar with the area where Riverside is in conjunction to Chicago. For many years I would say it was 11 miles west of the downtown, so Brookfield Zoo was a much better explanation.

As the zoo celebrates its 75th anniversary, I realize that its importance is so much more than a reference as to where Riverside is located.

The zoo as we locals refer to it had its beginning in 1919 when Edith Rockefeller McCormick made a very generous donation of 83 acres for what was to become a zoo. A bit of trivia: the property where our house on Selborne Road is was also owned by Edith. At times our house was a zoo, but was not part of the zoo.

Anyway, funding for the zoo was approved in 1926. The economic crisis and stock market crash in 1929 halted its progress.

Now, fast forward to 2009. Brookfield Zoo surely far surpasses the imagination of Edith McCormick and the architects of the original zoo plan. It has become more than a place to see animals. It has become a center of learning and conservation to be enjoyed by all ages.

Which brings me to the Brookfield Zoo I remember growing up. A trip to the zoo was not just family entertainment. The zoo was a place where my friends and I could walk to and hang out. We always took pictures of each other on the large stone lions and dropped a few coins into a container that read “Save the Wombat.” I hope they were saved!

As we approached our teen years, it was a great place to go on a date or the “we just happened to run into each other at the zoo” thing, since we were too young to really date.

There is also the story about the parking lot sign featuring a large monkey pointing to the parking lot. One night it happened to “disappear” only to be returned by the culprits, whose names will be withheld to protect my high school friends. It was a prank that is laughed about to this day.

Brookfield Zoo has given us a share of memories, including the good times we had ourselves and those we had with our children. It will continue for many years to be a place for all to enjoy.