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Proposed zoo pavilion to honor Bill McKown
Committee raising funds for new fish dock
Bill McKown

Efforts are underway to raise funds for a memorial at Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo in memorial of the late Bill McKown. Dubbed the Bill McKown Pavilion, it would replace the fishing dock closed two years ago.

Sara Hamlin, zoo curator and supervisor, and Bob Feldt, a member of the  Friends of Bill McKown Memorial Committee and the zoo board of directors addressed the Great Bend City Council Monday night. They presented an update on the ongoing project.

In March 2017, the zoo had to close its dock from which people could feed the fish in the zoo pond, Hamlin said. A rusted support rod forced the immediate closure of the feature that had been a staple at the facility since the 1990s.

“The dock was one of the things on our list to get fixed,” she said. “It was a real asset to the zoo.”

Visitors loved feeding the fish and the swans. In fact, this year, they have already spent $750 on fish food. 

“It is something the community really wants,” she said.

“Those of who cherish the memory of Bill McKown and wish to preserve that memory believe the building that we want to place astride the fish pond and the alligator pond would be a fitting memorial to Bill,” Feldt said. The committee proposes to raise the money to build it. 

“Bill loved the zoo, he served on the zoo board for a number of years, and he loved Great Bend,” he said. The structure is basically a gazebo that will be handicapped accessible and large enough to fit someone in a wheelchair at the same time as it accommodates others. 

“We believe the building we have in mind will be a beautiful addition to the zoo and it will replace the fishing dock that children have enjoyed for many, many years,” he said. They want to bring that back.

Previous ideas

The new feature takes the place of earlier proposals, Feldt said. 

The committee’s first choice is the southwest side of Jack Kilby Square.

The group intended to hire Great Bend artist Chet Cale as designer and sculptor for a life-size likeness of McKown in his wheelchair. The cost for the statue, concrete base and pavement would have approximately $200,000. 

Two years ago, “we had a very ambitious proposal at the time,” he said. But, “I think that our reach exceeded our grasp.”

This would have taken a considerable amount of money, he said. “I think that this is a more realistic project. I think it will honor his memory.”

He is confident the community will rally around this plan to raise the needed funds. Felt did not go into the what the cost of the pavilion would be.

The zoo was one of two other locations for a memorial under consideration. The other was Veterans Memorial Park.

However, they were not asking for city money. The Bill McKown Memorial Committee was and is seeking private contributions.

About Bill McKown

McKown died March 19, 2014, after living a more-than-full life as a quadriplegic. He suffered spine and neck injuries in a traffic accident on Aug. 11, 1975, near Fresno, Ca. He was only 19.

His accomplishments were many. 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. He also devoted his time and talents to the Kiwanis Club, Great Bend Jaycees, Barton County Arts Council, Brit Spaugh Zoological Society, Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Cheyenne Bottoms, Relay for Life, Panther Booster Club and Cougar Booster Club.

He created endowments to benefit many of the organizations he was involved with, such as the Brit Spaugh Zoological Society, Barton County Arts Council, Great Bend Kiwanis Club, Barton Community College Foundation, Camp Kanza and Camp Aldrich.

He was active in business and in the oil industry.

Feldt’s fellow committee members are Paul Snapp, Don Halbower, the Rev. Bill Johnson, Leroy Weathers, Todd Armatys, Carl Anderson and David McKown, Bill’s brother.

The committee is seeking private donations for the monument, and will determine if there are possibilities for public money and grants.

Donations may be sent to: Bill McKown Memorial Fund, Great Bend Foundation, P.O. Box 365, Great Bend, Ks. 67530.