The 35th annual Emporia Friends of the Zoo Roundup brought zoo patrons out in droves on Friday evening.

Herds of people came to the Anderson Building at the Lyon County Fairgrounds for a buffet supper, live music and auction benefiting the David Traylor Zoo.

Although final totals were not available at press time, zoo director Lisa Keith said the goal was to beat last year’s total of $74,000.

“We’ve already raised about $24,000 through ticket sales and cash donations, so I think we have a good chance of hitting our goal,” Keith said. “We are thrilled with the community support. We couldn’t do this without them.”

Bidders had a variety of items to attract their fancy, including sponsorships of animals at the zoo, a week of summer camp at Camp Alexander, tickets to Symphony in the Flint Hills, handmade furniture, gift certificates, an English high tea, the opportunity to flip the switch for Happy Holidaze, gift baskets and a painting by Tiako, one of the zoo’s resident hedgehogs.

Proceeds benefit the zoo in many ways, Keith said.

“Funds we raise tonight will go toward maintenance and improvements, our conservation efforts and our expanded education programs,” she said. “The community expects excellence, and we work hard to deliver it.”

Several improvement projects are scheduled to begin in 2020, including the eagerly anticipated otter habitat. Keith said the zoo is expanding its conservation efforts this year by applying to become a partner with the American Zoo Association’s Save Animals From Extinction (SAFE) initiative.

“We just sent in our request to partner with SAFE to protect pollinators, specifically the monarch butterfly,” Keith said. “Pollinators are in dire need of our help thanks to the loss of habitats through development, pesticides and extreme weather. Without pollinators, we won’t have food. Since we’re in the monarch path, we have the opportunity to help with conservation.”

Janel Wiederholt, co-chair of this year’s event and a member of the zoo’s board of directors, said she is excited about the improvements coming this year, especially in the educational programs.

“I’m from Hartford, and I’m so impressed with how the zoo reaches beyond the city limits and even beyond the county to provide educational opportunities,” she said.

Nancy Gilpin expressed a similar sentiment when explaining why she supports the David Traylor Zoo.

“I think it’s imperative to support the zoo because it can reach out to every member of this community and beyond,” she said. “It supports and enriches the entire community, no matter what age. The appeal is universal.”

Paul and Ronda Lapping drove in from Wichita to attend the evening’s festivities. Born and raised in Emporia, both have fond memories of the zoo and make a point to come “home” to support it.

“I grew up on the corner of Logan Avenue and Exchange Street,” Ronda Lapping said. “I love the zoo. It holds a special place in my heart.”

For Mike and Joyce Reynolds, the zoo was the deciding factor in their decision to move to Emporia in 1994.

“When I first told [Joyce] about Emporia, she wasn’t very interested,” Mike Reynolds said. “Then I said, ‘They have a zoo.’”

“And the rest is history!” Joyce Reynolds chimed in.

At the time the couple had small children and the zoo promised plenty of fun family outings. Now that their children are grown, the Reynolds are still frequent visitors.

“I find it super relaxing to visit the zoo on Sunday afternoons,” Mike Reynolds said.

“We like to bring out-of-town guests to the zoo and they’re always impressed by it,” Joyce Reynolds said. “To me, it’s the best place in Emporia.”

Major underwriters of the evening included Mitchell Markowitz Construction, Clark Carpet & Tile, GLMV Zoos, Billy and Lindy Whetzel, Westside Recycling and Williams Automotive.

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