Amy Named Employee of the Year

Amy surrounded by those who wrote Employee of the Year nominations. Photo by Steve Gooch.

 I was surprised and honored when the zoo awarded me as Employee of the Year.  Four lovely people wrote nominations: Todd Bridgewater, Tara Henson, Teresa Randall and Candice Rennels.  I cherish each of them and will always be grateful. 

With permission, I’ve included Todd’s nicely-written nomination, followed by the zoo press release. 

Amy Stephens’ enthusiasm and passion the Oklahoma City Zoo’s history is nothing short of contagious. Her research connects the zoo’s growth to significant events in our community. It covers everything from animal behavior and husbandry, construction and exhibit design, civil rights and political figures, community and culture, and two once forgotten beer-drinking monkeys.

In the beginning…

Even though it was beyond her scope of duties, Amy dedicated the past 8 years to salvaging and archiving 108 years of zoo history. She first excavated the Daily Oklahoman archives for stories of Wheeler Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo. This yielded enough material to fill twelve D-ring binders and publish two books: Oklahoma City Zoo Now and Then and Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959

Additional articles further revealed her gifts as a talented writer and story-teller.  She imparted the significance of our zoo’s history to the community, state and the global profession by respectively publishing articles for ZooSounds, Distinctly Oklahoma and NAI’s Legacy Magazine.  In short, these publications became stepping stones to sharing the Zoo’s rich, and often humorous culture, in person.

She inspired others…

Amy and Mike at the ZooZeum grand opening, April 9, 2011. Photo by Lisa Franks.

Amy presented many programs to community groups (i.e., Rotary, Edmond Newcomers Club, Daughters of the American Revolution, Red Hat Ladies, Ladies Auxiliary, etc.) about the zoo’s first 50 years. Several of these occurred on her personal time; however each benefitted the zoo. Her presentations increased our community’s awareness of, interest in and donations toward the overarching goal of creating a formal zoo museum. Note – it is extremely difficult to measure the effect of a specific program on someone’s attitude. In this case, one only needs to look at the zoo’s archive collection. Its growth is a direct reflection of her personal commitment and activism in saving zoo history. Current and past employees, as well as public citizens, donated numerous personal and historical affects producing a unique and diversified collection (i.e, articles, postcards, video, slides, t-shirts, artifact, etc.). Sixteen individuals even contributed their life stories through a recording project with the Metropolitan Library System. Volunteers have spent more than 800 hours cataloging over 6,000 items, with more waiting to be processed.

To create something new from something old…

Overlooking the 80-year-old bathhouse that is now the ZooZeum. Photo by Todd Bridgewater.

Opening a museum requires vision, creativity and an ability to communicate both with clarity. Amy’s management style ensured that everyone stayed informed and involved. By working with multiple zoo departments, she guided a renovation process that turned a 4,000 sq. ft. dilapidated building into a beautiful exhibit space. Appropriately named the ZooZeum, the building features two exhibit galleries with museum quality cases, oversized graphic panels, multimedia presentation platforms and more. Her attention to detail not only included aesthetics, but extended to infrastructure too. Amy began researching and developing an archival storage system from scratch, which is now accredited by the American Association of Museums.

So it can be shared with everyone…

After the ZooZeum opened, Amy’s work shifted from individual stories to envelope the site itself. She created two to behind-the-scenes programs and organized five on-site special events. She also presented the ZooZeum at three conferences, including an international on-line audience, and three podcasts. Each program, event, conference and podcast succeeded in achieving zoo education’s primary mission – connecting our guests with zoo resources. At a recent meeting in Saint Paul, the education staff from the Lincoln Park Zoo raved about Amy’s ZooZeum presentation – from three months ago! They have spoken with her since, are still in awe and clamoring to do the same at their site.

For the purpose of giving back…

As far as we know, there is no other zoo exhibit like the Patricia and Byron J. Gambulos ZooZeum. It is unique and one-of-a-kind. It is also interesting to think how saving an organization’s history can be viewed as a progressive step forward. Amy Stephens not only guided that process, she inspired others to join in the vision, to donate their personal affects, to give their time, and to become stewards of their own resources. The ZooZeum presents memorable stories of our organization’s growth within the context of our community’s history. She answers to the unofficial title of Zoo Librarian, but perhaps a more fitting one is Zoo Historian. We should honor Amy Stephens’ passion and commitment to the Oklahoma City Zoo by recognizing her as Employee of the Year.


(Press Release) The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden proudly announces Amy Stephens, Naturalist Instructor Supervisor as the 2011 Ralph D. Harris Employee of the Year. The Employee of the Year award is selected each year by the Zoo’s Employee Recognition Committee and management staff.

Amy teaching zoo preschoolers. Photo by Todd Bridgewater.

A member of the Zoo’s Education team since 1998, Amy teaches a variety of programs throughout the year in addition to supervising the department’s part time birthday party, snooze and camp staff members and overseeing the Zoo’s collection of historical artifacts.

Amy was the sole impetus behind saving the historical building that is now the Patricia and Bryon J. Gambulos ZooZeum. Through her passion and motivation to preserve the Zoo’s history for generations to come the foundation for the ZooZeum came to life when it opened last spring. For nearly a decade Amy gathered historical information, objects and oral histories about the Zoo. This past November her effort to bring Gayla Peevey to the Zoo for the debut of the “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” ZooZeum exhibit resulted in providing a special holiday event for the community and creating another unforgettable moment in the Zoo’s history.  

“Amy is a true asset to our team,” said Dwight Scott, Zoo Executive Director/CEO. “She is extremely self-motivated and approaches all projects with heartfelt enthusiasm and a positive outlook. Amy is 100% focused on doing the best job possible for the Zoo, her peers and our patrons.” 

Amy brings many of her personal passions to her job. She supports animal welfare and co-developed the Zoo’s internal certification program for animal training and its curriculum. An advocate of life-long learning, Amy shares this passion with staff and volunteers by maintaining the Zoo’s library. Working closely with staff she keeps the library’s collection current allowing them access to information on present zoo practices and research. She is also an engaging speaker and often speaks in public forums about the Zoo.

Aside from her Zoo duties, Amy is an award-winning author. Her book “Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959” (c2006 Arcadia Publishing) was awarded as an Outstanding Publication by the Oklahoma Museum Association. She also maintains membership in with the National Association for Interpretation and the Oklahoma Museum Association. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Oklahoma Christian University and a master’s degree in Instructional Media from the University of Central Oklahoma. She and her husband Mike reside in Edmond, Oklahoma.


Amy Stephen’s job profile is featured on the Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) Explore blog


Filed under Zoo

4 responses to “Amy Named Employee of the Year

  1. I bet you didn’t know that my accidental call was no accident.
    I wanted to prove to my friends that I really did know THE Amy Stephens –
    OKC Zoo Employee of the Year. CONGRATULATION!

  2. Phyllis Davidson

    I couldn’t agree more that Amy deserved the award. I also can’t imagine a better nomination article than Todd’s. He stated the facts clearly, thoroughly, and beautifully. I am greatly impressed with both of you. No wonder the zoo is doing so well!

  3. Congratulations Amy! That is fantastic!

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