Reptile Gardens just lost its last link to the past, Marv Basham (1917-2011). Until yesterday, Marv was the last person still around who was here on opening day in June of 1937. He had helped build our original buildings and did a lot of other things back in the day when the crew consisted of just a handful of people and everyone did whatever was needed.
Even though they were considered a bit old, when World War 2 started Earl Brockelsby and Marv Basham immediately enlisted - Marv in the Navy and Earl in the Army. Upon returning from the war the men set about getting the Reptile Gardens back into shape and better than ever. This included a greatly expanded main building and a reptile house, all covered in native stone - designed by Earl with Marv as working foreman.
As Marv's family grew he knew he needed a bit more income than a budding reptile zoo could offer so left to work at Coast-to-Coast Hardware in Rapid City. When we began our move to our current location due to the relocation of Highway 16, the first person Earl thought of was Marv. His tremendous skills and knowledge about building, machinery, and tools would be invaluable to the now growing facility. So, in 1964, Marv returned to his roots.
Marv always made sure everything was working: heat and air conditioning in all our buildings, our wells and pumps, lighting, plumbing, restaurant equipment, and more. He never for a moment hesitated to come out late at night or on his day off or both, in blizzards and heat waves, to fix some critical piece of equipment. His only concern was that our animals would not be at risk and our Guests would be comfortable.
Over the years, Marv repaired pretty much everything on the property, built countless animal enclosures and gift shop display cases, oversaw and did much of the work on new areas and buildings. Back when we picked up the crews for each shift, Marv drove the crew car for the early shift every morning (sometimes arriving at someone's door a bit earlier than they might have liked especially after a long night, as college kids on summer vacation are wont to do).
At one point, Marv and his wife Hazel (who also worked at the Gardens for many years) decided to retire and move to Oregon. Shortly after they got out there Marv knew where his heart was and they promptly returned to Rapid City. Marv once again took up his post at the Reptile Gardens.
Although he slowly backed off the more strenuous tasks over the years, Marv showed up at work every day until just a couple years ago. Even at 90 he was here every day of the week to do whatever he could, which up until his late 80's included things like climbing ladders to replace burned out ballasts in the fluorescent light fixtures.
Marv is already missed by all of us who knew him. The Reptile Gardens would not be what it is today without Marv's dedication and skills. Rest in Peace dear friend.
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