"I just always knew this was what I was going to do."
Position: President and CEO
Responsibilities: Defining the strategy and vision, as well as the culture of Reptile Gardens.
Joe has been the President and CEO of Reptile Gardens since 1994. He not only sets the overall direction of the animal park (operations, marketing, strategy, financing, and compliance with safety regulations) but also serves as the team’s main cheerleader. Joe researches new opportunities to acquire unique specimens for their collection and increase their medley of botanicals and flowering plants, while looking for new ways to entertain and accommodate Guests.
"It takes a lot of planning, hard physical labor, and detail work to make Reptile Gardens what it is today. Each person generously gives his or her unique perspective and talents...I can honestly say my entire staff is comprised of people who take a deep personal interest in making the Gardens the best it can possibly be. They ensure every Guest, from our first spring visitor to the last to leave at the end of the season, has an amazing experience."
Under his tenure, the gardens and flower exhibits have grown exponentially, plus many other new exhibits have been added. And, this reptile park has become the premier reptile collection in the world, boasting more reptile species than any other zoo or park anywhere.
Before he was CEO…
Joe grew up at Reptile Gardens, which means he has a million stories…and a few bites!
"Many years ago, when I was much younger (and not so smart), I was cleaning the enclosure containing our five 20-foot Reticulated Pythons, a species known for its irascible disposition. Since it was impossible to take all those huge snakes out of the exhibit to clean it, we simply gently covered each one with a burlap bag. I guess they figured it was night and went to sleep…
The largest one of the group spent most of her time coiled atop a large old driftwood stump. As I was cleaning the window with the stump between me and the door, I heard a noise behind me. When I turned around, I froze. The snake had slipped out from under the burlap bag and struck at me. That huge toothy maw would have been wrapped around my neck, if only she hadn’t gotten hung up on a part of a branch…to make the experience even more exciting, the guy helping me screamed and slammed the cage door behind him, leaving it up to me to figure out how to get out of the exhibit safely with a very large python between me and the door!"
Joe has missed only two summers since 1963. He started out as a maintenance boy when he was 9, he has been a bumper boy, Safari Room leaf cleaner, worked in the Snack Bar, presented countless snake shows, and been Assistant Curator of Reptiles, Curator of Reptiles, Sales Manager, Assistant Manager, General Manager, and finally CEO/President/Chairman of the Board.
Things to know about Joe
When he’s not working with the RG team, Joe is passionately involved in the collection of New Guinea art and preservation of this amazing culture - his love of art was fueled by his uncle, Earl Brockelsby, and also Joe’s parents.
He travels at every opportunity to places all over the world but says he prefers the tropics.
"I guess I have spent too many years with reptiles and have become a bit reptilian myself so am no longer adapted to cold weather."
His list of places yet to visit is huge - and it keeps growing. Favorite place so far: Australia.
Joe holds two bachelor's degrees: one in Art History and the other in Anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
While pursuing a post-graduate degree from the University of Kansas, Joe realized being a college professor was not what he wanted to do. When Earl asked him to return and ultimately take over, he moved home and resumed his place at the Gardens.
Earl was very influential in young Joe’s life.
"He traveled all over the world. When he would return, the family would all get together to enjoy his stories and watch his slide shows of these strange, far off places…and he would, of course, bring us all gifts."
Earl was also one of the very first park operators to believe that you can never offer your Guests enough hospitality nor can your facility be clean enough. Joe and his staff maintain this fanaticism for making their Guests happy and offering them a spotless and safe park.
Joe has 2 daughters. Both have spent quite a few summers working at Reptile Gardens.