Donor Stories

Roots Within the Zoo 

"The Brookfield Zoo has always been an important part of our lives.  We visit regularly, take advantage of special programs and trips with zoo staff, and serve as adoptive 'parents' to an American Bison and a Dolphin.  So when we were presented the task of determining the disposition of our gifts, we didn’t hesitate to name the Brookfield Zoo as a major beneficiary. 

My roots with the zoo go deep.  My mother worked at the zoo in the early 1940s, and my grandmother started taking me to the zoo in the mid 1950s.  When we married in the 1960s, I introduced my husband Art to all the joys of walking among the animals.  The conservation and educational programs put forward by the Society’s administration and board have elevated the Brookfield Zoo to a special category; it is a place where visitors and students can learn and become better citizens of the world.  The animal care staff and volunteers are devoted to maintaining and exhibiting an animal population that is diverse and important to our understanding of the world around us.  There have been a lot of changes and improvements in the past 50 years, and we hope that our gift will be used to continue on this path." – Fran and Art Clark


Creating Memories of a Lifetime and Beyond

"My affection for Brookfield Zoo probably began even before my memories did. My parents adored the zoo, and brought my sister and me countless times during childhood. My father was somewhat of an amateur filmmaker, and watching his 16-millimeter film has allowed me the good fortune to re-live many zoo visits over the years.  A favorite is of just my father and me – him setting up his camera on a tripod, and then pushing me past it in an old enormous wooden wheeled chair.  

I’ve always been in awe of the powerful beauty of animals, which is why I'm still so drawn to Brookfield Zoo. It's been like a second home, where I can visit my animal friends and see them thrive. A quote, in part, from Henry Beston says it best: “For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.” My fascination with animals has never diminished, and is now accompanied by a deeper respect of nature as I realize just how delicate and fragile our natural world is. It's one of the reasons I'm proud to be a member of the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Society. My future gift to Brookfield Zoo could be the difference between a child – like I once was – embracing the magical world of wildlife, or never experiencing its wonder." – Bonnie Greene


A Volunteer Gives Back

"For as long as I remember, Brookfield Zoo has been a part of my life. Throughout my childhood, and now into my adulthood, there has never been a place I would rather go for fun, for conservation education or to experience our natural world.
I am now at a point in my life where I can look back and reflect on my life’s experiences and consider those who have given me joy and personal satisfaction. Now that I can, it is time for me to give back to Brookfield Zoo, an organization that has given me so much personally. Because I am able, I volunteer my time as a docent, hoping I can share my love and experiences with others. Who knows, maybe I can create a spark in a youngster who will become the next Dr. Anne Innis Dagg. Because I can, I have arranged my personal affairs through the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Society so that when I am gone, the Large Cats and the Pinnipeds will not be forgotten and will have a piece of me.
It reminds me of the Greek proverb posted inside the Mary Ann MacLean Conservation Leadership Center at the Zoo which says, 'Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.' " – Larry Schimka


Keeping Brookfield Zoo Vibrant

"Have you ever listened to the zoo’s sounds? There are peacocks cawing, an occasional roar from one of the bears or lions, and the stampeding buffalo hooves as you travel the tunnel to or from Great Bear Wilderness. There are people sounds too, ranging from oohhs and ahhhhs to crying children and tired adults.

It has always been the sounds of the Hamill Family Play Zoo that I find most mesmerizing. Listen. What do you hear? The sounds of learning, exploration, attempt, awe, amazement, laughter, and release – so many sounds important in the lives of children and their caregivers, whether they’re family or the greater community.

Look. What do you see? An environment in which it is safe to touch, play, crawl, experiment, pretend –  things so integral to a child developing skills that, when nurtured, will add grace, blessings, and respect to our world and all of its creatures.

I am honored to be a member of the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Society, joining many others in keeping our Brookfield Zoo alive with sounds and sights." – Marie Marotta


Consider a Legacy Gift

"Arranging a Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) legacy gift was for us one of those rare important decisions for which we have not a shred of regret. It was (and is) the right thing to do. Period.

What makes it right is the manifest devotion of the Society’s administration, board members and animal care staff to conservation leadership. For personal reasons, we chose to earmark our gift for avian conservation – bird conservation research, species propagation and habitat protection. CZS’s remarkable contributions to help save the Micronesian kingfisher, one of the world’s most imperiled birds, compelled us to help do our part.

Perhaps you are considering whether to make a gift for the betterment of the planet your children will inherit. If so, our experience with the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Society allows us to recommend it to you without reservation." - Amy and Al Ottens

Kelly Hughes “Bears” Her Soul

"When I first moved to the Chicago area in August 2007, it was just me and my two dogs. I had earned my PhD in Psychology and landed a tenure-track position at a suburban university.

Professionally, things were going well, but personally I felt very lonely. Being single and in my early 30s, it was hard for me to make friends and I had very little social life. I didn’t teach on Fridays, so one afternoon I found myself wanting to be out and about. A life-long animal lover, I headed to the Brookfield Zoo and it was there I met him – Hudson, the baby polar bear. I fell in love at first sight. I stood in front of the polar bear exhibit for hours and watched Hudson play.

I started going to the zoo regularly after that.  When I was there watching the animals, I always felt connected to them, as if we are part of something much bigger. I didn’t feel so lonely and those days seemed brighter.  Hudson brought me so much joy and laughter, I can’t imagine a world without polar bears. So even though I am now happily married to the love of my life, I can’t forget my love for that little polar bear.

Brookfield Zoo is a conservation organization that I know and trust. Now that I have left my university life behind me, it seems fitting to name the Brookfield Zoo as a beneficiary of my prosperity during that time. I am grateful for what the zoo provided and I hope that through my gift they will continue inspiring the connection we have with the natural world."

Touch the Future with Your Estate Plan

Martha sat in her attorney's office describing her plans for the distribution of her estate.
"Well, let's see now. I want to leave the crystal to my sister Harriet. I should do something for my brother Charles, although he's so successful he really doesn't need an inheritance from me. I'll just leave him a token of my affection - perhaps the grandfather clock from my husband's estate.

"I want to provide generously for my son, Tim, and my daughter, Julie," Martha continued, "but I'm not sure it's necessary, or even a good idea, to leave them all of my estate. We taught them to work hard and be self-reliant and nothing should change that.

"Now there are three others I need to tell you about . . . and they are very unusual," she added slyly. On hearing those words her attorney leaned closer and Martha went on:

"Oh, yes. These people tell me they never have to pay income taxes. Not only that, I never have to pay gift taxes or estate taxes on anything I give to them. But here's what is even more interesting: Whenever I make gifts to them, I get to write it off on my income taxes!" Martha smiled at her attorney's puzzled expression and finally confided that these "people" actually were several worthwhile not-for-profit organizations (including us).

Increasingly, people like Martha are telling their advisers: "My children are grown, educated and on their own. I have given them a good start in life. I want to provide for them after my death but I don't feel I need to leave my children everything.

"I would do them no favors by giving them an instant fortune. I've worked hard; I've been successful; life's been good to me. Now I want to give something back. I want to do something for humanity. It's a matter of my personal philosophy."

For these individuals, their charitable beneficiaries - schools, houses of worship, health institutions, social service organizations, cultural foundations or others - may be every bit as important as the natural objects of their bounty. And if that's the case, then some remarkable estate planning ideas are possible. Our staff would be pleased to help explore ways by which you can add immense personal satisfaction to your plans - plans that make the statement: "I was here. My life was important. I made a difference."

A Case Study in Charitable Estate Planning

Occasionally one hears of a situation that evokes the thought: "This is what estate planning is all about!" Sylvia is a 77-year-old retired teacher who has always lived frugally. She has amassed, through purchase and inheritance, the sum of just over $620,000 in U.S. savings bonds (Series E and EE). She's unmarried, but has three brothers she wants to benefit. She also told her attorney she wants to provide for the future of important organizations, including us.

Sylvia’s attorney didn't know the exact amount of unreported interest tied up in the savings bonds, but estimated that it exceeded $300,000. He explained to Sylvia that, although her estate is not subject to tax, the bonds will be taxable in her estate or in the hands of family members who receive the bonds – meaning they will be subject to income tax on all accumulated interest. More than $70,000 would be lost in federal income taxes alone, assuming heirs are in a 24% tax bracket. The bonds' value also would be subject to federal estate tax.  Solution? Sylvia's attorney suggested she establish a charitable remainder unitrust in her will and specify that the trust will be funded with the savings bonds. The trust would last for 20 years and make payments to her brothers (or to the children of any brother who dies prior to termination of the trust). Tax results?

“First of all,” her attorney explained, “there won't be any income taxes on the savings bonds when they are cashed in by the trustee, because the unitrust is tax exempt. The interest on the bonds will be passed through to your brothers as part of their annual unitrust payments and taxed as ordinary income. But the trust doesn't lose anything to tax.” Sylvia liked the idea of reducing taxes, but was particularly pleased that her brothers would start receiving income from a larger asset pool. Most satisfying was her ability to provide about $620,000 (or more) to worthwhile causes when the trust ends.

A Temporary Gift That Beats Estate Taxes

Evelyn, age 70, worked side-by-side with her husband, Raymond, in the printing business for nearly 40 years.  They sold the business for $26 million several years before Raymond’s death, and Evelyn never remarried.  Her own health is reasonable good. Evelyn has two daughters, ages 36 and 40.

“I want to make sure may children don’t lose too much to taxes when I’m gone,” Evelyn said to her attorney, “and I’d also like to do something in Ray’s memory.”

Her attorney was familiar with a special charitable giving plan called the charitable lead trust that has a unique ability to reduce or eliminate gift and estate taxes. He put together some “what-if” numbers for Evelyn:

“You could transfer, say, $20 million of securities to a trust that will pay exactly $1,200,000 annually for 25 years to qualified organizations,” he began. “At the end of the 25 years your daughters would receive all the trust assets. If the trust investments follow historic patterns, we would expect to have more than $40 million in the trust by that time, even with the $1,200,000 payout to charity. Of course, there are no guarantees.

“There would be a gift tax return to file, but you wouldn't owe any tax because of a large gift tax charitable deduction,” he continued, “and there would be no estate tax on the trust assets either, even if the children eventually receive more than the original $20 million.”

Evelyn replied that she liked the idea of relocating a large part of her estate out of range of estate taxes, especially when it meant a huge bequest to support our organization ($30 million over 25 years), all in Raymond’s memory.

Contact Us

For more information about 
Planned Giving, please contact:
Denise L. Bartolotta
Director of Major and Planned Gifts
Chicago Zoological
Society/Brookfield Zoo
3300 Golf Road
Brookfield, Illinois 60513
(708) 688-8174