Topeka icon and first zoo director, Gary K. Clarke died Friday evening at the age of 79.

Gary came to Topeka in 1963 at the City’s first Zoo Director. From a Noah’s Ark Fundraising Campaign to a romance between two gorillas named Max and Tiffany, Topeka began to fall in love with its zoo and its leader.

Clarke’s goal was always to improve the care of the animals not only in his charge, but in zoos throughout the world.

In 1974 when the Topeka Zoo opened the first Rain Forest exhibit in any zoo, zoos around the world took notice.

Gary Clarke truly made the Gage Park facility the World Famous Topeka Zoo. In 1989, the zoo was visited by nearly 300,000 people.

The family will greet friends on Saturday, January 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Dove Cremations & Funerals-Southwest Chapel at 3700 SW Wanamaker Road.