Mar 12

Remembering Bill Grewcock

Late last year, the Omaha Zoo Foundation and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium lost a great friend and supporter whose contributions to our organizations were more than enormous…they were elephantine. 

In fact, Bill Grewcock’s relationship with the zoo began with the elephants in 1968, when the career Kiewit executive was asked by Peter Kiewit to devise a method to dig a moat for the new elephant facility the zoo was building at the time. After a stint spent overseeing Kiewit projects in other parts of the country, Grewcock returned to Omaha and became a significant donor, as well as a member, of both the Omaha Zoological Society and the Omaha Zoo Foundation boards. “Bill has been a patron, and a big part, of almost every major project we’ve done for the last thirty-some years,” says Dr. Lee G. Simmons (Doc), chairman of the Omaha Zoo Foundation board and a longtime friend of Grewcock. 

The support came full circle when Grewcock told the Foundation that he wanted to sponsor the new elephant habitat, a crown jewel of the 2016 African Grasslands exhibit, in honor of his wife Berniece, who counts the pachyderms among her favorite animals. “He wrote us a humongous check, but we had to keep it a secret for two years while the project was being completed because he wanted it to be a surprise for Berniece,” laughs Doc. “Even some of the board members didn’t know who this mystery donor was.”

While that exhibit is officially named the Berniece and Bill Grewcock Elephant Habitat, most of the time Grewcock was adamant about keeping his name off the projects he supported. “Even though Bill and Berniece have been among our very biggest donors, Bill never wanted recognition for anything he’d done,” says Doc. 
With two other notable exceptions: the Berniece Grewcock Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, and the Bill and Berniece Grewcock Center for Conservation and Research (CCR), which opened in 1996 and is globally regarded as a leading institution in molecular genetics, reproductive physiology, nutrition, plant micro propagation and conservation medicine.

“Many people don’t realize the scope of what goes on at the CCR, but it has had, and will continue to have, an enormous impact on the world of conservation,” says Doc. “Since it opened, we’ve had 2,200 graduate and undergraduate students, from 41 countries, come through there. They are exposed to conservation projects in a way they wouldn’t be in a normal college curriculum, and they’re able to take what they’ve learned and apply it to solving problems all over the world. Bill and Berniece’s generous support has created a ripple effect that’s saving animals and plant species worldwide.”

Bill was also a champion of conservation on a more local level. He served on both the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Game and Parks Foundation boards and was widely recognized for the conservation projects he undertook at his 30,000-acre ranch in the Sandhills. He was also a generous supporter of the Nebraska Humane Society.

“Bill used to curse me out because he said every time we had a new baby animal at the zoo, I’d put it in Berniece’s arms and it would end up costing him a lot of money,” recalls Doc with a chuckle. “But whenever we needed help, especially when it came to conservation projects, he would give us a handshake and his word, and he would always come through.”