John Ball Zoo names Kevin O’Neill interim CEO


Grand Rapids’ John Ball Zoo features more than 2,000 individual animals. Photo via

The John Ball Zoo has a new CEO that will take the popular attraction through the process of transferring its ownership from Kent County and the John Ball Zoo Society to a new, yet-to-be-named nonprofit organization.

A seven-member task force leading the transition announced this week that Kevin O’Neill is the zoo’s new interim CEO.

O'Neill background

Most recently, O’Neill was the superintendent of Coopersville Area Public Schools, having served in that post for 13 years.

Before that, he was the interim superintendent for Grand Rapids Public Schools from 1996-1997.

Overall, O’Neill has 40 years of leadership experience in the education field.

“The John Ball Zoo is one of Grand Rapids’ many treasures. I am looking forward to this special opportunity to work with others in taking the zoo to a new level of success,” O’Neill said.

Last year, the zoo drew 455,000 visitors: a number that gave the attraction at Fulton Street and Valley Avenue on the city’s northwest side its most successful year in its 120-year history.

“Kevin’s community orientation and depth of experience in working with a diverse workforce will bring many benefits to the zoo,” said Kyle Irwin, chairman of the John Ball Zoo Society Board of Directors.

Zoo's next steps

The task force that chose O’Neill is made up of members from the Kent County Commission, the zoo society, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Steelcase Foundation and the Frey Foundation.

The zoo’s ownership transition is expected to be completed next year.

“I have great confidence that Kevin O’Neill is the right person for this task,” said Keny County Commissioner Harold Voorhees, also a task force member. “The quiet strength of his leadership is most impressive.”

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