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McKown Memorial Gazebo going up at Brit Spaugh Zoo
Great Bend Zoo’s new gazebo is in memory of Bill McKown
Employees from Brentwood Builders work on assembling the new gazebo next to the fish pond at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo. The gazebo is a memorial to Great Bend philanthropist Bill J. McKown. - photo by Susan Thacker

A gazebo located between the alligator pond and the fish pond at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo is going up this week. The long-awaited project is in memory of the late Bill J. McKown.

Robert Feldt, a member of the Friends of Bill McKown Memorial Committee, first discussed this project with the zoo supervisor and Great Bend Zoological Board of Directors in 2019. Then-supervisor Sara Hamlin said a gazebo could replace the dock that was removed in 2017 after it had fallen into disrepair. The dock was installed in the 1990s and was a popular spot in the zoo where people could watch or feed the carp in the pond.

Feldt said the committee raised the money to build the gazebo, which was considered a fitting tribute to McKown, who died March 19, 2014. 

McKown became a quadriplegic after he suffered spine and neck injuries in a traffic accident on Aug. 11, 1975, near Fresno, Calif., when he was 19 years old. That didn’t stop him from living a more-than-full life, friends said. He was Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 155; held many positions at the prestigious National Boy Scout Philmont Ranch in New Mexico; and received numerous scouting awards.

McKown served as the Kansas delegate to the President’s Commission for the Handicapped.

new slt mlee McKown
Bill McKown

The gazebo will be handicapped-accessible and large enough to fit people in wheelchairs at the same time as it accommodates others.

Feldt said the Friends of Bill McKown Memorial Committee members started looking for a way to pay tribute to their friend as early as 2016. A gazebo at the zoo was appropriate for many reasons.

“Bill really cared a lot about the zoo and served on the (Great Bend Zoological Society) board for a number of years, and he loved Great Bend,” Feldt said. 

“Bill was very interested in Scouting and children’s activities,” Feldt added. “He lived such an incredibly full, productive and generous life, and he did that all seated in a wheelchair. He was such an extraordinary person who gave of himself to the community. He touched many, many lives in our community, old and young.

“He inspired me every time I was with him.”

The concrete slab for the gazebo was poured earlier and Brentwood Builders is doing the construction work this week. There will also be a plaque honoring McKown.