Dec 16

A Tradition of Giving

If the best gifts are those that have just a little bit of the giver reflected within them, then Mike Faust deserves a spot in the gift-giving hall of fame.

Since 1984, Mike has been giving of his time, his talent and yes, his financial resources, to help make Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium what it is today.

Of course, Mike had a bit of backstage access. As assistant to the chairman, Walter Scott, of Kiewit Corporation, Mike was asked to lend his writing and editing expertise to the very first Omaha Zoo Foundation brochure by our founding executive director, Suzanne Singer (later Scott).

That one favor turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Mike and the Omaha Zoo Foundation. “The zoo was selling about 25,000 memberships a year then, which was second only to San Diego,” Mike remembers. “Sue thought the potential was far greater, and, of course, she was correct.”

Mike agreed to be an unofficial advisor to the zoo’s membership campaign, eventually becoming a division leader and then chairman of the campaign in 1991. With no new exhibit opening that year (the Lied Jungle débuted in ‘92), Mike and his co-chair, Dr. Gail Yanney, helped the zoo achieve a record-breaking membership. “As I recall,” Mike says humbly, “It was in the 55,000 range.”

“Back then, there were only patron memberships available,” he adds. “Along with Sue and others, I always thought there was greater potential in the patron campaign among those not looking for a membership, as much as a way to promote conservation or to “friend” the animals.”

That idea birthed the zoo’s adopt campaign, which we now fondly know as ZooMama/ZooDaddy.  Who’s fit to be a zoo parent? Turns out, just about anyone who wants to support a favorite animal, the city of Omaha, or conservation in general.

“When someone buys a membership to the zoo, there’s a direct benefit, a “what’s in it for me?” It’s only natural to want something for your investment and a zoo membership has great returns,” Mike explains. “But as you develop a greater appreciation for all of the zoo’s missions, you begin to take a broader approach. You realize you can be a part of building something that contributes to the community in which we all live work and raise our families.”

Mike, who doesn’t have young children himself, may not make regular visits to the zoo the way many members do, but he derives just as much joy from his investment, including a significant contribution he made to the Desert Dome’s construction in 1998 (see if you can find his name on the wall on your next visit). “I just have a lot of respect and admiration for the way the zoo has been managed and developed through the years. It’s a matter of community pride for me to support the zoo.”

Plus, patronage does have its perks. Such as the time Mike attended the 100th anniversary party of Kiewit, and the zoo brought along some animal guests. “One of the keepers had a two-month-old orangutan – cute as the dickens -- that grabbed onto me and wouldn’t let me go,” he laughs. “I’m six foot seven. I guess I looked like the tallest tree around!”

Maybe. Or maybe that orang just knows a guardian angel when he sees him.

For more information about helping the Omaha Zoo Foundation support the zoo’s mission of education and conservation, please visit https://www.omahazoofoundation.org/giving-information.