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Jerry Douglas









Jerry Wayne Douglas was born in 1943 in Waldron, Arkansas, USA. He died on 23rd June 2013, aged 69. He was director of Cosley Zoo.


When the Wheaton Park District decided in the early 1970s to open an animal farm, district officials saw Jerry Wayne Douglas as the ideal candidate to run it.

Mr. Douglas, who raised cattle with his uncle in his native Arkansas as a young man, went on to spend 29 years as director of what is now known as Cosley Zoo, greatly expanding exhibits and programs.

"He gave his heart and soul to Cosley," said Ray Morrill, the district's retired director of recreation and special facilities. "Cosley grew under his leadership and guidance, and it became more than just a few farm animals, as it had been when he started out. He broadened it to include native wildlife."

Mr. Douglas, 69, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Sunday, June 23, at Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital, said Sandy, his wife of 43 years. He was a resident of Wheaton.

Born in Waldron, Ark., Mr. Douglas moved to Chicago at 16 to live with his brother, his wife said. He worked as a delivery boy for a time before serving for several years in the Navy.

After leaving the Navy, Mr. Douglas moved to Wheaton and worked as a police officer and in a side job for the Park District. He later was a police officer in Glendale Heights, then joined the Wheaton Park District full time, working in its maintenance department out of Northside Park.

In November 1973, a landowner donated 2.65 acres to the Park District, and officials began planning an animal farm on the site at 1356 N. Gary Ave. Nine months later, Cosley Children's Park and Museum opened.

The district tapped Mr. Douglas to head the facility, which on opening day had just a handful of domestic farm animals. Within a few months, the park added native wildlife and soon changed its name to Cosley Animal Farm. It took its present name, Cosley Zoo, in 1999.

Mr. Douglas oversaw major changes to Cosley in his three decades running the facility. Added during his tenure were more acreage, a barn, an aviary and a learning center that houses domestic farm animals, feed storage areas and an indoor area for programs and special events.

"He really found a niche," said Sue Wahlgren, who succeeded Mr. Douglas as Cosley's director after 19 years as his assistant. "He came into this situation and I think it even surprised him as he grew and changed. When he came here it was just a few old buildings and a handful of farm animals, and as it started to gain in development and popularity, he grew with it and really saw something happen."

For his first seven years as Cosley's director, Mr. Douglas and his family lived in the middle of the zoo, in an old wooden railroad station that had been built in the 1880s and moved to the property from downtown Wheaton. For his remaining time at Cosley, they lived in a house across the street from the zoo that now is used as the zoo's special facilities house.

"It was the best life we could ever ask for," his wife said.





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