Sunday, March 2, 2003

Benefactor working wherever she's needed


She and late husband have been major givers, yet she stays available for 'scut' duties

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Winifred Barrows pets Mara, an 8-year-old serval at the Cincinnati Zoo. She co-founded the Barrows Conservation Lecture Series.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
So, Winifred, after working with the zoo for more than 20 years, your last name is almost synonymous with that place and conservation causes. How did that come about?

My real involvement started in 1982. I took a class on animal dependency from (then education director) Barry Wakeman and it opened a new world for me.

That class showed me the importance of conservation and how the wild's continued health is dependent on humans.

Is that why you and your late husband founded the Barrows Conservation Lecture Series 10 years ago?

It was the seed. About 101/2 years ago, a man who worked here, Jim Neihard called and invited me to breakfast and asked if I would bring the doctor (husband Emil). I said he couldn't go, but I would.

What Mr. Neihard wanted to do was start a lecture series, and he needed $5,000 for it. When I told Emil, he said, "let's do it." He passed away after the first year, but he was convinced by then that it was the best money he ever spent.

Having your name on a lecture series, does it bother you that so many people think you're dead?

IF YOU GO
The 2003 Barrows Conservation Lecture Series opens with field biologist Dr. George Schaller and the topic "Conservation in Tibet: Of Snow Leopards and Tibetan Antelope." It's 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Cintas Center's Schiff Family Conference Center on the Xavier University campus, 1624 Herald Avenue. $8 zoo volunteers/students, $10 zoo members, $12 non-members. 559-7767.
Do they really? It never dawned on me. I'm 83 and very much alive. And so busy right now. I've gone back to school at Hebrew Union College, although I'm taking this semester off. I'm finishing the philosophy degree I started in 1942. I switched off back then and became a surgical nurse, but I always had it in the back of my mind to go back.

You know what else I'm doing that's fun? I'm starting cello lessons. I've wanted to learn it all my life, but my father, he was a violinist, said my hands weren't right, and he steered me to piano.

I'm going cello shopping soon, then I'm going to have my third arthritis surgery on my hand. I'll start lessons as soon after that as I can. I'm hell bent on this.

Besides donating money, are you still active with the zoo?

I'm available for scut work, to do whatever they need. Sometimes I'm in the gift shop, sometimes I stand out there and give directions to people who are lost. I go wherever they put me.

Beyond that, I serve on the zoo board. I'm on four committees, plus I was on the search committee that found Gregg (Hudson, director). That was one of the best times for me.

Do you ever come here just for kicks?

Sure, I come and wander around the grounds, pretending the animals are actually mine. I always visit the elephants, especially Baby Ganesh, and the big cats.

I have three grandchildren in Greenwich (Conn.), and their first three questions when they get off the plane are: When are we going to the zoo? When are we going to Frisch's? When are we going to Graeter's?

Catherine Hilker has said many times that without you and your husband, there would be no Cat Ambassador program. True?

I guess it is. Emil was a cat man. All I had to do was tell him Catherine needs something and he'd buy it. Sometimes, he wouldn't even wait for her to ask. He'd just say, "What would you like that you don't have?" and he'd buy it.

Over the years, we've bought a clouded snow leopard, caracal, serval, a few cheetah along the way.

After Emil died, Thane (Maynard) and I planned the whole second year of the Barrows Series around cats in his honor.

If you had unlimited funds, is that what you'd do, buy more cats?

I'd do two things. I'd take the rehab of the elephant house to the next level so we could house a full-grown male elephant.

Then I'd fix up the cheetah house where Catherine keeps her cats. They'd have a toyland, a bigger yard and, of course, a swimming pool.

If the zoo told you you could take any animal home as a pet, what would it be?

I'd have to strike a deal so I could have Ganesh for six weeks, then a cheetah for six weeks. There's no feeling in the world like having a cheetah eat from your hand, although I have to remember to keep my thumb tucked in because they think it's food.

There's a funny story about taking animals home. Before I moved into my condo in Hyde Park, someone told a downstairs neighbor that I'd be bringing zoo animals home all the time and they weren't potty trained, so there'd be stuff seeping through the ceiling.

It took me forever to convince people that I didn't harbor animals up there.

What do you do when you aren't traipsing around the zoo?

I travel as much as time allows. The first trip I ever took alone was one around the world. I want to do that again. And I go on zoo-sponsored trips, especially to Africa.

I've seen a baby zebra born, watched its mother clean it and then watched it take its first steps. I've watched a mother lion teach her cubs to make a kill. My grandchildren were with me, and they were awed.

This is the 10th year for the Barrows Conservation Lecture Series. How much longer will it go on?

Forever, I hope. I've made arrangements so there's money in my estate to endow the program in perpetuity.

The voices it brings to Cincinnati are too vital not to be heard.

E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com




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