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Kevin J. Bell ’74

Kevin J. BellIn 1976, at the age of 23, Kevin J. Bell ’74 came to Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo as curator of birds—the youngest curator ever hired at the zoo. In 1993, he was named assistant director and that same year, director, following in the footsteps of his mentor, former director Dr. Lester E. Fisher. On January 1, 1995, upon the privatizing of the previously Chicago Park District-operated zoo, Bell also became president and CEO of The Lincoln Park Zoological Society.

During his 33-year tenure at Lincoln Park Zoo, Bell has been extensively involved in every facet of operations, from the science of animal management and strategic administrative planning to collaborating with private, public, and government support entities. Although Bell has spent his entire professional career at Lincoln Park Zoo, he had impressive zoo experience before he arrived. Bell grew up on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo in New York. When he was five years old, his family moved onto the grounds where his father, Joseph, directed the department of ornithology for the next 20 years. Bell became a zoo volunteer at age 10, a part-time animal caretaker at 17, and a keeper at 20.

Bell received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Syracuse University and a master’s in zoology from the State University of New York, Brockport, where he was a research assistant for the National Audubon Society. On behalf of Audubon, he conducted extensive fieldwork with puffins and seabirds off the coast of Maine. He was participating in this project when Dr. Fisher offered him the curator of birds position at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Bell played an instrumental role in the two most ambitious capital campaigns of the zoo’s history: the Heart-of-the-Zoo campaign and the My Kind of Zoo campaign. Combined, they raised more than $125 million in capital for renovation and new construction at the zoo, and built an endowment to secure the zoo for future generations. Thanks to Bell’s vision, the oldest zoo in America is also the newest, with every building either newly constructed or renovated since 1982.

International conservation and science fieldwork has taken Bell from Panama to India to Africa and, most frequently, to Iceland and Indonesia. During six annual trips to Iceland, Bell continued his fieldwork with puffins and, in 1984, was the subject of a PBS Emmy award-winning documentary film, “Arctic Window.” For 10 years, he traveled to Indonesia with other scientists on behalf of a critically endangered bird, the Bali mynah.

Fellow zoo directors, conservationists, scientists, and other professional members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) voted Bell to the AZA board of directors in 1999. He was involved in every aspect of the national organization, including accreditation, ethics, conservation, and science and animal welfare. Before his election to the board, Bell served as a member of the AZA ethics board and head of its privatization task force. Additionally, Bell served as chair of the Wildlife Conservation Management Committee, which oversees the conservation and science programs of the nation’s accredited zoos.

In 2005, Bell received the President’s Award for raising more than $1 million in relief funds for zoos and aquariums affected by Hurricane Katrina. He was re-elected to the AZA board in 2007, this time as a vice-chair, and served as chair from September 2009 through September 2010. In 2011, Bell was selected as one of three U.S. delegates to serve on the board of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).

In 2006, Bell was elected to the Board of Visitors of SU’s College of Arts and Sciences. He is also a member of SU’s Chicago Regional Council, along with various civic and conservation organizations, including the IUCN/WCPA Task Force on Cities and Protected Areas.