ANNOUNCING THE WOMAN OF THE MONTH
Fort Worth women are making headlines daily as business owners, entrepreneurs, top management officers, and political leaders. So, here at Fort Worth Woman, we are selecting one of our city’s shining stars each month. These are the movers and shakers you need to know, and we are proud to honor their accomplishments as our WOMEN OF THE MONTH.
Co-Chairman of the Fort Worth Zoological Association
Watching children see a mountain lion for the first time or stand eye-to-eye as they feed a giraffe is a special feeling I never take for granted. I hope people leave the Zoo feeling uplifted, not sad or depressed; we want them to be inspired to help conserve wildlife and to be empowered with knowledge to give them hope for the future.
Meet October’s Woman of the Month! Born in San Antonio, Ramona Bass was raised between the Alamo city and her family’s ranch in South Texas. Growing up on her family’s ranch gave Ramona a love and appreciation for animals and nature, as well as allowed her to learn, what she describes as “the importance of responsible hands-on stewardship of the land and its native wildlife.” After marrying her husband Lee thirty-nine years ago, Ramona moved north to Cowtown and grew her family to include her three children. Almost as soon as she arrived, she began to make her mark here in Fort Worth.
When Ramona describes her first visit to the Fort Worth Zoo she stated, “In 1983, I was newly engaged and Lee and I went to the Fort Worth Zoo. I was heartbroken when I saw the state of the outdated and cramped enclosures with concrete floors and the lovely animals caged inside. I knew at that moment I had to do something about it and the Fort Worth Zoo has since become my life’s work.”
Under Ramona’s leadership, privatizing the Fort Worth Zoo became the initial challenge but also proved to be the catalyst to achieving the desired results. Ramona describes, “Along with a group of native Fort Worthians, we led the effort to privatize the Zoo, which inspired a renaissance of the Zoo throughout the last thirty years. With the help of so many — a hardworking Board, extraordinary Zoo staff and keepers, the most amazing and big-hearted donors, The City of Fort Worth and the millions that come here — we have opened 18 permanent habitats and support facilities, welcomed 30 million visitors into the park and raised $300 million and counting.”
Like most mothers, Ramona found inspiration from her children and that is how she decided what to tackle next. Ramona explains,” Our first big project after privatization was inspired by one of my children. I retrieved my then four-year-old from preschool and she exclaimed from the back seat that the world was coming to an end, all the animals were going to be extinct, we’re all going to die of pollution and it was all our fault. That’s where I got the idea for Texas Wild!.”
If you have been to Texas Wild! You know that since 2001, it is an eight-acre habitat featuring all that is native to Texas – from animals to beyond. With conservation at the heart of the overall mission and the center of every one of her projects, Ramona maintains a realistic view of how to place her words in to action. She beautifully and emphatically states, “we are not simply a piece of land with beautiful animals and habitats; we are an idea, a philosophy, and a vision that permeates throughout the Zoo in all of our messaging and educational concepts. We reject the utopian, preservationist viewpoint which would have us believe that if man would only disappear, nature would be perfect. Instead, we embrace a conservation/management philosophy that recognizes man is here to stay. Indeed, he is an integral part of a complex system which has never been, nor will ever be, static. Although there have been failures in the past, man has been and must be a catalyst for positive change. We believe that we are accountable for the survival of wild things and wild places and that through responsible and wise stewardship, man can forge a working partnership with his environment. As my husband always says, “stewardship is not a spectator sport.” We must be actively involved in the world around us”.
Ramona remained just that – actively involved — throughout the entire process of change which has created some of her most memorable moments. She describes her first major fundraising effort further, “Some of my fondest memories of the Zoo were the road trips around Texas with a hilarious roadrunner, incredibly sweet alligator and very moody Harris hawk while fundraising for Texas Wild!. I traveled around sharing stories and conservation messages about our great state and the marvelous animals we have right here in our own backyard.” This vast habitat project, representing what makes our state the lovely place that it is, catapulted the Zoo to the forefront of conservation and education.
Ramona’s mission is a beautiful combination of pure and honest. Just a few short years later, Ramona opened the Museum of Living Art (MOLA), which is a world-renowned herpetarium. As Ramona described the design process of the building she explains that it “was fascinating to work with the keepers and learn how to match the needs of the animals with the design and aesthetic of the space to make something so appealing to our visitors. With the gorgeous animals and beautiful habitats, it truly is like walking through a museum. We hope that by observing these creatures in this respectful, exquisite way, people will leave with an understanding and appreciation for the animals that sometimes can elicit shrieks and squirms from guests.” Ramona’s touch on the zoo continues to bring a culmination of education, expertise, and art together that naturally becomes a must-have experience.
Just a few short years later, in 2013, the elephant herd expanded in historic proportions with the births of Belle and Bowie. Ramona describes this momentous occasion as truly extraordinary and magical. The Fort Worth Zoo is now an international leader in elephant conservation both here at home and abroad. In order to continue to protect and conserve wild elephants, the International Elephant Foundation – an independent nonprofit organization – was established at the Fort Worth Zoo and is still actively engaged through the donation of resources, funding and staff.
Ramona’s work, to this day, never ceases. Beginning in 2016 through present day, she and her team kicked off A Wilder Vision: a four-phase $130-million master plan that will ultimately renovate and redesign the entire Zoo. Ramona explains the timeline, “African Savanna opened in 2018 and is a unique mixed-species habitat with giraffe, ostrich, kudu and others, all together as you would find in the wild. Our beloved hippos have a 70-foot flowing river and the meerkats and southern black rhino have new habitats as well. In 2021, we opened Elephant Springs and welcomed baby Brazos, who adds to our third generation of Asian elephants. Our three-generation herd – with grandmothers, mothers, aunts and babies – mimics herd dynamics in the wild. If you didn’t already know, elephants love to swim. I could spend all day watching Brazos and his aunt, Belle, play and splash in the 400,000-gallon river. It’s adorable and one of my favorite things to see here at the Zoo. Elephant Springs also received the Themed Entertainment Association’s THEA award, which is an international award for habitat design. We’ll finally bring back the lions, tigers, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas when our big cat habitat opens next Spring in 2023. We’re welcoming African leopards and clouded leopards. Then we’ll start on the final phase, Forests and Jungles.”
For forty years, the Fort Worth Zoo has been Ramona’s passion and purpose. Her impact has created a ripple effect throughout the country and is one of the many reasons Fort Worth is on many peoples’ lists to visit. Part of the success has to do with the messages the Fort Worth Zoo purposefully portrays. Ramona describes further, “with the current dangerous disconnect between children and nature and the doomsday environmental messages we are all receiving today, I think we can agree the factual, science-based information we teach and the stories we tell could not be more crucial. What if future generations do not have the understanding or the interest to conserve and manage the birthright they have been given? We must ensure that they understand the complexity of man’s role in the environment not only here but around the world and that they appreciate the marvelous natural treasures they have inherited.”
In reflecting on her accomplishments, Ramona continues by giving details about just one of many rings of her continual ripple effect, “Wildlife and the outdoors have always been a part of my life. I was appointed by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to serve on the National Wildlife Refuge System Centennial Commission, served as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s vice chair of the Outreach and Education Advisory Committee, received the International Award of Excellence in Conservation from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), and my husband and I were inducted into the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Conservation Hall of Fame.” These are the kinds of awards and accolades that aren’t just given, but truly earned.
Ramona has given back and changed our city for the better yet somehow she describes the experience as a blessing to her. With a full heart and a genuine, unrelenting mission Fort Worth is undoubtedly blessed by a combination of her leadership, expertise, and vision. Since her arrival, our Fort Worth Zoo has exponentially evolved and has repetitively been named one of the best in the country. To date, the Fort Worth Zoo is actively involved in conservation projects in more than 30 countries around the world including “funding antipoaching efforts in Africa and Asia, breeding and releasing threatened, endangered and critically endangered species back in to the wild, managing in-situ (in their natural habitat) conservation projects of several species, financially supporting okapi conservation in the animal’s native range”, and many, many more.
When asked what she loves about our city, Ramona cited the collective vibe. She describes “I love the generosity of Fort Worth and the “let’s get it done” spirit. The entire loyal community, the supportive councils and mayors (both past and present), and those whose charitable giving never ends, ALL are proud of Fort Worth and want to make it the best that it can be. I’ve never seen another place like it!” She truly understands the power of the people in Cowtown and with her touch on the Zoo, has created her own in our city. As she was describing the magic of the Fort Worth Zoo she said, “Watching children see a mountain lion for the first time or stand eye-to-eye as they feed a giraffe is a special feeling I never take for granted. I hope people leave the Zoo feeling uplifted, not sad or depressed; we want them to be inspired to help conserve wildlife and to be empowered with knowledge to give them hope for the future.”
As she was asked about what word she would use to describe her impact as a businesswoman on Fort Worth, Ramona accurately picked, “WILD!”. She describes further, “After all, how many people can say that they hear elephants trumpeting from their desk? It’s certainly never boring. I have no idea what I might be doing when I walk into the office each day – construction and master planning, habitat design, development of core messaging, fundraising … the list goes on.” Thanks to Ramona’s constant improvement efforts, even the future of the Zoo is looking wild – and in the best way. With predator habitats grand opening, Texas Wild! refurbishments, The World of Primates facelift, and education building expansions all on the horizon the the Fort Worth Zoo is ‘wildly’ ever changing to accommodate the needs of both the animals it protects and the people it serves. And for Ramona? Her work is never done. When talking about the future of the zoo she enthusiastically said, “they’ll have to carry me out of here!” and we are forever grateful.
Ramona Bass, you have made and are guaranteed to continue to make a historic difference in our city. Thank you for who you are and for your powerful commitment to better the Fort Worth Zoo. In the wise words of Ramona herself, “You never know where life will take you but whatever your path may be, find your passion and never give up. As long as you are passionate about something, the opportunities are endless. I never dreamed all those years ago this is where I would find myself, but now, I can’t imagine anything different.”
Michelle has a passion for connecting, encouraging and informing about the good happening in our city. The good people, events, food, stores, entrepreneurs, and good deeds are her focus. She has created a niche for herself by using social media as a native marketing tool that has created meaningful exposure for local businesses in Fort Worth to a wide but very particular local audience.