The first manager of the Micke Grove Zoo when it opened in 1957 has died.
Ronald Theodore Reuther, who has led a full life as a zoo manager and countless other pursuits, died Oct. 4 at his home in Belvedere, Marin County. He was 77.
Born Dec. 25, 1929, in Miami, Reuther moved to 1943 and later to San Francisco. He began his career with animals in 1957, when Micke Grove Zoo in Lodi opened for the first time. The zoo held its 50-year anniversary celebration in August.
The zoo sits on land dedicated by William and Julia Micke for development of a park in 1938.
"Ron Reuther and I spoke about Micke Grove Zoo a few times at some Association of Zoos and Aquariums meetings many years ago," Ken Nieland, the current zoo director, said in an e-mail.
"When the zoo first opened and the animal collection originally established, I suspect Ron was involved in animal acquisition, though I find no reference to him in an early daily journal where animal entries were made," Nieland said. "Zoo record-keeping has come a long way since then, so the limited early data is not surprising."
After about a year at Micke Grove, Reuther became curator of the Cleveland Zoo, followed by administrative positions in Indianapolis, Cleveland again, San Francisco and Philadelphia. He was director of the San Francisco Zoo from 1966 to 1973 and was president of the American Zoological Association from 1968 to 1970.
While in San Francisco, Reuther became "foster dad" to a gorilla named Koko, who used sign language. He brought Koko home after she became ill and fed her with a baby bottle, diapered her and allowed the gorilla to become part of the family until she became too powerful to stay at the house, his wife said.
Reuther was involved in considerably more than overseeing zoos. He led such a full life that his wife, Gerry Elkus, said it took her nine days to write biographical information about him.
Reuther founded the Western Aerospace Museum, now known as the Oakland Aviation Museum, in 1981. He was founder, president and executive director. The museum contains more than 100,000 square feet of exhibits of the history of Oakland International Airport, women in aviation, Tuskegee Airmen and other notable flyers.
Reuther also had a fascination about how legendary aviator Amelia Earhart died in 1937, being an active member of the worldwide Amelia Earhart Society. He organized four society conferences in the Bay Area and lectured at professional organizations and educational institutions about it. Reuther believed that she and her navigator were forced down over Japanese-held islands, taken captive and likely died in prison, his wife said.
He was preceded in death by a daughter, Catherine Reuther Bonomi, and a brother, Lance Reuther.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Paul Reuther of Washington, D.C., and Jon Reuther of San Rafael; a daughter, Victoria Casto of San Rafael; two stepdaughters, Laurel of Belvedere and Nancy of San Francisco; his ex-wife, Mary Reuther of San Rafael; a sister, Phyllis Motell of Corte Madera; a brother, James Reuther of San Francisco; and three grandchildren.
Reuther was cremated. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Corinthian Yacht Club, 43 Main St., Tiburon.
Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice by the Bay, 17 E. Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Greenbrae, CA 94904; Oakland Aviation Museum, P.O. Box 14264-Airport Station, Oakland, CA 94614-9507; Gorilla Foundation, P.O. Box 620530, Woodside, CA 94062; or the Lam Foundation, 10105 Beacon Hills Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45241-1335, in memory of his daughter, Catherine.
Arrangements were by the Neptune Society.