Fact Check: The Air Zoo’s Name has Nothing to do with Kalamazoo
Lots of people refer to this town as "the Zoo", right? That is not how the Air Zoo in Portage got its name.
Collectors know how it is, you buy one, and then all of a sudden... It happens with boats, campers, and classic cars; as soon as you have exactly what it is you thought you wanted, you're buying another or trading in and trading up. It happens with airplanes too.
Pete Parish served as a Marine Corp Aviator in World War II and never lost his enthusiasm for aircraft. He went in with a friend and purchased a single-engine Beechcraft plane. Not long after he married his wife Suzanne, the pair bought a biplane. Not content with being a 1.5 plane family, they soon were looking for hangar space for three more aircraft, including Suzanne's dream: a P-40 Warhawk just like the combat plane she aspired to climb into the cockpit when she was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. You buy one, and then all of a sudden... Let's pick up the rest of the story direct from the Air Zoo's website.
Sue and Pete had always wanted to share their enthusiasm about World War II airplanes with the public. So, when a friend offered to give them his Grumman Bearcat if they agreed to open a museum, they jumped at the chance. The Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum opened its doors to the public at 3101 East Milham on November 18, 1979. The museum became popularly known as the “Air Zoo” because of the distinct animal names of the aircraft in the original collection, including a Wildcat, Hellcat, Bearcat, and Flying Tiger.
Read that last sentence again.
So, although you may hear people shorten "Kalamazoo" to "the Zoo," it actually has nothing to do with the name of one of our community's brightest treasures. Since its founding in 1979, the Air Zoo has grown to become a world-renowned, Smithsonian-affiliated, aerospace & science experience with outstanding aviation, space & hands-on science exhibits, rides & activities.
Don't forget to look for Sue's dream plane, the desert pink Flying Tiger, right over your head the next time you walk into the atrium at the Air Zoo.