JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In this week’s SnapJAX stories, we ended up at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. One of our snappers was sending pictures of animals at the zoo. It turned out he was a volunteer and he has quite the story about the zoo and how it started a lifelong love in more ways than one.
Richard Gainey was the first to volunteer at the zoo. Then his wife, Becky Gainey, joined in the fun.
“Becky saw what a good time I was having, so she decided to be a volunteer,” Richard said.
In fact, Becky logged more hours than Richard did during their first full year of service. It makes sense they both like it at the zoo. It’s where they had their first date.
“They were hosting a bluegrass concert, and I asked her, ‘Did you want to go?’ She’s not a fan of bluegrass music. But it was here at the zoo, and she said yes and later she said yes to marrying me,” Richard said.
They have a lot in common. In another life, they both worked in television at the same Jacksonville station. The couple has moved around since then, but the zoo called them home.
“Because of the first date here in the zoo in 1975, we came back and visited once we returned. We said, ‘Let’s go to the zoo,’” Richard said.
They kept coming and now know the place like the backs of their hands. The Gaineys have a lot of laughs at the zoo, and one of Richard’s favorite spots is showing off the newest Jaguar cub, Banks.
“A lot of our people that can come here as guests want to see Banks. So we want to make sure that they’re happy. And seeing Banks. So he’ll come out usually about, oh, about nine o’clock when the zoo opens and he’ll entertain them,” Richard said.
Richard is known as Fernandina Pics on SnapJAX because that’s where the couple lives, but his heart and his camera both spend a lot of time in Jacksonville at the zoo.
“The zoo is a wonderful place to come and visit, especially to get an annual membership because that has a lot of benefits,” Richard said. “And I want to make sure that people know that the animals are here and ready to see them. So I always try to relate whatever picture I send, animal-wise, to the weather, and the people that I depend on for weather information.”
You can find Richard and his wife Becky at the zoo volunteering a couple of days a week. They actually compete to see who can get the most hours.