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Frawley named MN Zoo leader

John Frawley, a graduate of Red Wing High School, was elected director and president Wednesday of the Minnesota Zoo. He said he plans to relocate to Welch with his wife and looks forwarded to reconnecting with the area. (Submitted photo)

It has been more than 20 years since John Frawley worked as a zookeeper at the Minnesota Zoo. Now the Red Wing High School grad is coming home to lead it.

Frawley, 51, was elected Wednesday as the director and president of the Apple Valley, Minnesota, zoo.

“It’s a fun circle to complete,” he said in a phone interview from California, where he works as the founding president of bay.org. The non-profit organization’s mission is to inspire conservation efforts in San Francisco Bay area and its wastershed. 

“I was very content down here, but when this position opened up I couldn’t stop myself from pursuing it,” he said. “It’s not just the fact that I love the Minnesota Zoo … on top of that I love the Minnesota ecosystem.”

Frawley said he grew up in the Red Wing area, “skiing and hiking the hills, and hanging out in the river.” He and his wife, Anita, plan to relocate to a house in Welch.

In addition to being closer to family, including two daughters and two grandchildren, moving back home means reconnecting with old classmates and other acquaintances.

“I’m looking forward to re-establishing a lot of local ties,” he said.

The Minnesota Zoo Board of Directors picked Frawley after he was named the top candidate out a pool of 200 by a search committee.

“(Frawley) brings a compelling background and skill set to the role that is going to serve this zoo particularly well,” said Board Chairman Peter Maritz in a news release. “His Minnesota roots, record of building successful public and private partnerships and expertise in conservation-related issues are perfectly matched to the needs of our institution.”

Frawley also worked at Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas and was on the park management team for the opening of Knott’s Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America. He was director/developer of operations, husbandry and facilities of the mall’s Underwater World attraction from 1996-1997.

“I’m just honored to be part of the Minnesota Zoo; I think it’s one of the world’s best zoos,” Frawley said.

The Minnesota Zoo opened to the public in 1978. More than 1.2 million guests and students visit it each year.

As director, Frawley also will serve as president of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation, a charitable organization that raises money on behalf of the zoo’s conservation efforts — something Frawley said is important to him.

“It’s not just about animals and being a great family experience,” he said. “The zoo is also focused on conservation of animals in the wild.”

Frawley will start at the position on Feb. 16.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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