Editor's Note: Jack Hanna's Legacy in Columbus Is a Lasting One
I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of interesting people in my career: everyday people with amazing stories, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, Fortune 500 CEOs, Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets. I was in awe when I got the chance to call film director George Romero and a few Pittsburgh Steelers, and meet Mr. Rogers during a college internship at Pittsburgh Magazine.
It’s part of the job to stay cool and collected in such situations. But I confess I had a bit of an internal fangirl moment when I got to interview Jack Hanna and his wife, Suzi, for our Winter cover story.
The 1980s were an era of zookeeper appearances on late-night TV. Joan Embery of the San Diego Zoo was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson, and David Letterman had Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo. Growing up, I loved watching both, but Hanna definitely had the edge on humor value. I recorded his final appearance on Letterman in 2015 and must have watched it five times.
Hanna’s TV appearances—on Letterman, Good Morning America and others—helped propel the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to amazing levels of growth and him into three syndicated shows of his own. There are so many stories about Hanna and his adventures that you could easily fill a few books. Hanna himself has written several such personal narratives, including “Jungle Jack: My Wild Life,” his 2008 autobiography.
Though Hanna will retire as director emeritus at the end of 2020, his legacy will continue in the countless ways he elevated a once-dilapidated zoo and turned it into a world-class attraction. Most would say Columbus owes him a debt of gratitude. But Hanna credits an outstanding team at the zoo and the people of Central Ohio.
“There’s just no way I can thank Columbus, Ohio, and the people that live in that beautiful city. I just owe a great deal to all of them,” Hanna says. “What they’ve done for our family, what they’ve done for other people. They built the zoo, not necessarily me, I just happened to be there. And so I can just tell you that it’s the greatest thing in the world. I’ve visited every country in the world, and I’m going to tell you Columbus, Ohio, is my favorite place in the world.”
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Read the Cover Story
It’s been a wild 42-year ride for the world’s most famous zookeeper. Even in retirement, his legacy will continue to impact the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Read "Jungle Jack’s Journey" for a look at his amazing career, including stories and anecdotes from The Man in Khaki himself, Suzi Hanna and his longtime colleagues.