Kansas City Zoo greeter brings passion and enthusiasm to work every day

Kansas City's Morning News
April 27, 2018 - 6:45 am

Anyone who has visited the Kansas City Zoo in the past six years has probably met E.J. and Ellen's Person of the Week, Bruce Turrell, the zoo's greeter.

"I've probably talked to people from 40 different countries by now, every state in the union probably," said Bruce, the first and last person most visitors see at the zoo. "Life shouldn't be behind a computer screen, you should be out here having interractions with the human race."

"Bruce is one of those people who are crazy passionate about what he does everyday," said Frank Wilburn, director of guest relations and Bruce's boss. 

Bruce is recognizable as the tall guy, with salt and pepper hair and a big smile.

"The thing that's great about it is that it's not only our guests who see that, but also our staff and employees," Wilburn said. "It rubs off on people."

In his time as greeter Bruce has met some famous people.

"I met Lorenzo Cain out here one time, I talked to him and his wife," Bruce remembers of the Royals star who now plays for the Milwaukee Brewers. "He's a great ballplayer, a better person."

"Morgan Fairchild came out here when she was working at the New Theater Restaurant," Bruce said. "At the end of the day she came up to me personally and wanted me to take a photo of her with a little disposable camera."

Bruce has also met NASA astronaut Ken Mattingly, famous for his work with the Apollo 13 mission.

As for the most interesting person Bruce has met, he said it was a 92-year-old visitor who was carrying a military I.D. Bruce asked the man what he had done for the U.S. armed forces.

"He goes, 'I was the official photographer for General Douglas MacArthur during World War II,'" Bruce said. "He was actually in the room the first time MacArthur met (Japanese Emperor) Hirohito."

The people who know Bruce all talk about his remarkable ability to remember all the people he meets.

"He remembers them by name, he remembers where they went to school, he remembers where they're from, he remembers if they're members," Wilburn said. "It's pretty amazing."

For instance, there's a couple who bring their child to the zoo. Their names are Terry and Jerry.

"They have a little boy named T.J., and he loves airplanes," Bruce said. "I make sure I have little airplanes for T.J."

Managers at the zoo have tried to encourage other employees to show the kind of enthusiasm and energy Bruce displays every day, but when they tried to organize contests, Bruce always won.

The zoo's visitors remember Bruce, too. One day Bruce was at the Deanna Rose Farm in Johnson County, getting ready for a round of golf nearby. He was wearing a hat, sunglasses and clothing other than his zoo uniform.

"A lady comes up to me, tears in her eyes, and says, my daughter just pointed at your over here and says, 'Mommy, why isn't he working at the zoo today?" Bruce said. "This girl's like, five years old. What impression does it leave on her to think about me? It's very humbling."

When he's not welcoming visitors to the zoo, Bruce's favorite activity is to ride the Sky Safari and look down on the animals. His favorites are the tigers and the meerkats.

People who meet Bruce find it difficult not to smile. He has that affect on thousands of them.  

"I think it's all about empathy, compassion and concern for the public," Bruce said. "Just wanting to talk and visit with other people, because we need to realize in our life, it's all about people."

When it comes to his job, Bruce Turrell lives by a few simple words.

"Do things with class, do it right, and respect each other all the time," Bruce said.

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