Zoo founder Mickey Ollson to speak at event Friday
by Emily McCann
One West Valley organization has spent the last decade living by the quote of philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Three Rivers Historical Society is made up of volunteers who are working to preserve the history of the Southwest Valley. It hosts public exhibits; collects artifacts, photos and rare documents; and has a program to record oral and written personal and family histories.
Meetings are typically at 3 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month, except in July and August, and each feature an informative presentation on Southwest Valley history. The normal location is Room 117 at Goodyear City Hall, 190 N. Litchfield Road.
A special gathering will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Total Wine & More, 1416 N. Litchfield Road in Goodyear, to celebrate the society’s 10th anniversary.
The guest speaker is someone who has made a name for himself in the West Valley over the last 30 years — Mickey Ollson, founder of the Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium in Waddell.
His presentation about living in the area and running an ever-expanding business will start around 7 p.m. A free wine tasting will follow at 8 p.m., and the meeting will also feature historic photo displays, cake, punch and door prizes.
“Obviously there are a few people who have been here much longer than I have, but I remember coming out here when I was in high school in the ’50s,” Ollson said.
The zoo, 16501 W. Northern Ave., just east of Loop 303, opened in 1984 with a few hundred animals consisting mostly of exotic birds and hoofed animals.
Now, the facility also has an aquarium with four buildings and gets more than 400,000 visitors a year. Its latest major project in the works is a 15-acre Safari Park with a tram ride.
“When I moved to the west side, there was only one stoplight on Northern Avenue west of I-17, and that was at 27th Avenue,” Ollson said.
He remembers driving to San Diego before Interstate 10 was built and having to take Buckeye Road most of the way. He also visited the Phoenix Trotting Park, south of Interstate 10 and west of Cotton Lane in Goodyear, the year it opened in 1965, he said.
“We were amazed at how nice that facility was, and how long it took to get there going down McDowell Road,” Ollson said. “We were just blown away with how neat it was and how fashionable it was to have harness racing out here in the middle of the desert, especially in the wilds of the West Valley.”
As a former junior high history teacher, Ollson knows the benefits of keeping the past alive, he said.
“I believe that roots are important to everybody, whether it’s an individual or a family or a community or a state,” he said. “Knowing where you came from and what your roots are is important.”
The Three Rivers Historical Society started with a few Goodyear residents collecting artifacts, and then a group of eight to 10 people decided it needed to be organized, President Sally Kiko said.
“We’re still a fairly small group, but growing and always seeking new members who are interested in history and the work we do,” she said.
It has about 50 to 60 paid members, but a number of other people attend meetings to listen to the speakers, she said.
“The West Valley is home to so many newcomers; people that have come here from other places and aren’t aware of the history,” Kiko said. “That’s why we preserve it and hope someday to have a museum and be able to tell the stories and have the artifacts to show.”
For information on the organization, visit threerivershistoricalsocietyaz.org.
Emily McCann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NewsbyEmily.