VILLA PARK – Thirty-five years ago, Steve Bathey was listening to the radio and heard about the Chicago Zoological Society volunteer program at the Brookfield Zoo. As a man who always has loved animals, he decided to apply for the program.
When asked why he originally chose the Brookfield Zoo, he chuckled.
“It was so long ago, I don’t remember why,” he said.
Bathey recently was recognized for his 35 years of service to the Brookfield Zoo by the Chicago Zoological Society.
A resident of Villa Park for 44 years, Bathey has spent more than three decades answering zoo visitors’ questions about the animals, interpreting animals’ behaviors for guests and making sure people follow safety procedures.
Every other Friday and Saturday, Bathey is given a schedule of four places in the zoo he is going to for the day. He could be at the Underwater Viewing area at the Seven Seas exhibit, the Feathers and Scales or the Living Coast exhibits, to name a few. Once there, he is a guide for zoo guests to help them understand the animals they are watching.
Bathey’s favorite part of his job is interpreting the animals for the guests. For example, there are two polar bears who live together at the zoo for breeding purposes. The female is very small and the male is much larger. Bathey said people tend to interpret the female bear to be the cub of the male bear instead of the mate.
The zoo holds memories for Bathey. It is where he met and married his wife, Lisa. Twenty-seven years ago, Lisa also applied to the volunteer program from an ad she heard on the radio.
“We both had the same way of getting there,” Bathey said.
The two got married at Indian Lake in Brookfield Zoo between the Dragonfly Marsh and the Great Bear Wilderness exhibits. This is the same spot a pair of trumpeter swans produce eggs each year, according to the zoo’s website.
When Bathey is not volunteering at the zoo, he spends his time taking photos of the zoo animals or at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, along with caring for his own pets.
The Bathey household consists of two turtles (Clipso and E.T.), three birds (Winston, Bob and Begee) and three rescued black cats (Cyrano, Jewel and Sable).
“People don’t like to take black cats,” Bathey said. “We take them.”