The Abilene Zoo will mark National Armed Forces Day, May 20, with a long-running tradition: free admission to a party honoring all active and retired military servicemen, veterans, and their families.
This 35th year of Zoolute to Dyess has some exciting new additions. Several military service groups and special guests are joining the festivities, turning Grover Nelson Park into a celebration of military service.
Anyone who presents their military ID at the gate will be admitted free and can enjoy free food, drinks and prizes, thanks to generous community underwriters. Children are invited to jump in the zoo’s alligator bounce house, and everyone can enjoy musical performers throughout the day.
Two 5K runs that benefit veteran families will take place in the park that morning. The CW2 Jennifer C. Hunter “Running Free” 5K Warrior Oorah and Family Fun Runs start at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., respectively, and will raise funds for Gold Star Families, who will be among the honored guests at the zoo that day.
Also new this year is a Veteran Benefits Fair. Organized by the Military Partnership of West Central Texas, representatives from more than 20 different service agencies will hand out information, make new friends, and draw for prizes throughout the day.
“Abilene is famous for its relationship with Dyess Air Force Base, and Zoolute is one event that underscores that special connection,” said Executive Director Bill Gersonde. “Our 35th Zoolute is a tribute to that bond, and our community underwriters and volunteers have mustered up plans to make it a memorable day.”
A special guest, Manuel M. Davila, associate director at the West Texas Veterans Affairs Health Care System, will join Dyess AFB leaders and local dignitaries to make remarks at the 9 a.m. opening ceremonies. The gifted vocalists with Dyess Voices will treat guests to the National Anthem, while both the Dyess Honor Guard and Cooper High School ROTC will present the colors.
Another fun first for the day: The Texas Veterans Land Board has chosen this occasion to debut its impressive new traveling van to Abilene. The vehicle is on its first tour of Texas. Military guests can check out the organization’s mobile office and learn about benefits, which include land loans, retirement homes, and final resting places for retired service members.
All guests will be encouraged to send warm wishes and gratitude by signing a large vinyl banner that will be sent to deployed airmen. The hand-written messages will hang in a military plane and delivered to troops to Afghanistan.
Zoolute to Dyess is made possible thanks to financial support from Stovall Realtors, Lawrence Hall Chevrolet Abilene and the Big Country Chevy Dealers, AEP-Texas, Black Plumbing, City of Abilene, Dr. and Mrs. Bill Haynes, and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Briley, as well as the Abilene-Reporter-News, Pepsi, and the Russell-Rose Team at RE/MAX of Abilene, along with many generous volunteers.
For more information about Zoolute to Dyess or to download a flyer, check out zoo events: http://abilenezoo.org/event/zoolute-to-dyess/.
For more information or to sign up for the 5Ks, visit http://www.sffwtexas.org/ or Facebook Page: Surviving Families of Fallen Warriors. The first 100 pre-registered runners will receive free T-shirts memorializing the day!
The zoo will be open to regular admission guests May 20, and Abilene Zoo members always get free admission and may use an express window for quick entry.
Armed Forces Day: Saturday, May 20
7 a.m. 5K Warrior Oorah Run
8 a.m. 5K Family Fun Run
9 a.m. Opening Ceremonies
9 a.m. Veterans Benefits Fair
10 a.m. Bounce Houses (wind permitting)
10 a.m. Abilene Community Band
10 a.m. Giraffe Zoo Keeper Chat
10:45 a.m. Macaws Zoo Keeper Chat
11:30 a.m. – Until you eat it all! Lunch, snacks & drinks
11:30 – Kori Bustard and Blue Duiker Zoo Keeper Chat
11:30 a.m. Piano Man Mike Schuler
12:15 – Rhino Zoo Keeper Chat
12:30 p.m. AHS Steel Drum Band
1:15 p.m. – Black Footed Ferret Zoo Keeper Chat
1:30 p.m. AHS Jazz Band
2 p.m.- Alligator Feeding Zoo Keeper Chat
2:30 p.m. The Memory Men Chorus
2:45 p.m.– Cotton Top Tamarin Zoo Keeper Chat
4 p.m. Gates Close
5 p.m. Zoo Closes
About the Abilene Zoo: Since its founding in 1966, the Abilene Zoo has stood as a place of learning and adventure, where visitors make memories, share the joy of discovery and become inspired to preserve wildlife. Situated on 16 acres in the award-winning Grover Nelson Park, the zoo provides a special encounter in a lushly landscaped walkable setting with more than 1000 animals of 270 species from around the globe. The zoo is open 7 days a week (closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Last admittance is 4 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults, $4.50 for children ages 3-12, $6 for seniors aged 60 and older. Members are admitted free. www.abilenezoo.org. 325-676-6085.