Santa Barbara Zoo director Nancy McToldridge retires after 40 years of work she found fun
Nancy McToldridge’s love for animals led her to the Santa Barbara Zoo when she was 28.
Her love for all creatures great and small also led her to work at the zoo for 40 years.
At the end of September, the longtime director of the Santa Barbara Zoo retired — with a good feeling about the zoo’s accomplishments and an appreciation for the co-workers who became part of her life..
She began her career at the Ohio State Parks as an interpretive naturalist, where she discovered her passion for connecting people with nature. Following this passion led her to volunteer as a docent at the Columbus Zoo.
She moved to Santa Barbara in 1982 after accepting the position of education curator. She was promoted to assistant director in 1989, chief operating officer in 1999 and zoo director in 2007.
The zoo recently celebrated its shared history with Ms. McToldridge and the accomplishments made for wildlife conservation and by people working to help endangered species and members of the local and global communities.
“Nothing is ever accomplished in a vacuum so I can’t say I accomplished anything by myself,” Ms. McToldridge told the News-Press. “I had the opportunity to work with visionary leaders and dedicated people who wanted to see the zoo develop as a fantastic community resource and a significant conservation and educational organization.”
“One of the benefits is the culture we have created,” she continued. “We have a wonderful cause and every person that works there is important to and a part of the cause.
“My mantra was always to have fun: If it’s not fun it’s not worth doing. We had fun.
“When you work at the zoo you work together as a team, and we get to know each other as people,” she said. “When I started, we had 13 full-time employees, and we have grown to over 100 full-time employees. We have really worked to keep the small family feeling amongst staff despite the growth.”
The News-Press asked Ms. McToldridge to describe what she is most proud of accomplishing.
“When I started at the zoo, there was a fabulous program called the zoo camp, and we have continued growing the program,” Ms. McToldridge said. “It has become the basis of an outstanding education program. We have a zoo school centered around homeschool students meeting their science education needs. The zoo is also a certified autism center and a licensed preschool known as ‘Early Explorers.’”
Ms. McToldridge also talked about what she has learned in her 40 years at the zoo. “I’ve learned so much. I was 28 when I came to the zoo,” she said. “I learned from everybody, especially my two bosses. I’ve learned from all my co-workers. I’ve learned about people, business and management and how it all works together in the zoo business. I would like to thank the community for everything they have done for the zoo.”
As Ms. McToldridge retires, her position as zoo director is being dissolved and her responsibilities are being distributed by Rich Block, president and CEO, and other members of the management team.
But she leaves behind a legacy, and she spoke about what she hoped that would be.
“It’s the culture for the people who make great things happen at the zoo. I hope I have helped build a foundation that rewards people for their work and what they do not just monetarily or with benefits but with a sense of accomplishment and that they have done good in the world.
“I came to work at the zoo because I love animals, and I love working with the animals, making their lives better and contributing to conservation efforts,” she said. “I leave with an even greater appreciation of the two legged primates — the people. I had never imagined I would get such satisfaction and joy from my co-workers.”