29 Jun ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO DEDICATES THE RONALD J. MOUNT BUILDING AT ESSEX COUNTY TURTLE BACK ZOO Millburn Resident was an Advocate for Turtle Back Zoo and Member of the Zoological Society of New Jersey and Docent Organization

West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. dedicated the “Ronald J. Mount Building” at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in honor of the late Ronald J. Mount on Monday, June 29th. Mount was an advocate for Turtle Back Zoo, supported the development of the Bears in Your Backyard Exhibit and was a member of the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the volunteer Docent Organization. He was a resident of Short Hills when he passed away on April 23rd and June 29th would have been his 73rd birthday.

“Ronald Mount helped us build the Black Bear Exhibit, which provided the foundation for us to continue bringing new exhibits that transformed Turtle Back into the first-class destination it is today. But Ron did even more by joining our Docents and Zoological Society and taking a hands-on approach to supporting the zoo and making it successful,” DiVincenzo said. “Ron fell in love with Turtle Back Zoo and we are forever grateful for his support and involvement. Ron was here when we opened this building and naming it after him is a fitting honor for all that he did for Turtle Back Zoo,” he added.

Members of the Turtle Back Zoo staff, Zoological Society and Docent organization remembered Mount as a dedicated advocate for the Zoo.

“Turtle Back Zoo has always been especially important to me,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “Not it is a fantastic place and one of the people who helped make that happen was Ronald Mount. He has done so much for this zoo and I am pleased we are honoring such a wonderful individual,” she added.

“Ronald loved the Zoo and showed it in many ways. I know one of his favorite things was engaging with the public on the Zoo grounds as a Docent,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said.

“When I started here three years ago, I realized Ronnie’s passion for the zoo very quickly,” Zoological Society Executive Director Adam Kerins said. “We owe him a lot for the recent success. The Zoo has forever been changed for the better,” he noted.

“I first met Ron during the development of the Bear Exhibit. He was kind and considerate about everything,” said Connie Williams, who is a former President of the Zoological Society. “Here’s to you, Ronnie, my your legacy and spirit live forever,” she said.

“Ronnie was a great addition to the Board of the Zoological Society. He brought strength and stability, and many of his ideas on how we should operate are still being used today. I will miss him greatly,” Zoological Society President John Doeffinger said.

“Everyone here knew he did a lot to help the Zoo, but he also did a lot to help underprivileged children. The more you got to know him, the more you wanted to help him,” Docent Ira Brotspies said. “I will miss Ronnie, but I will not forget him. His legacy will endure and I am proud to say I was his friend,” he added.

“Here at the Zoo, Ronnie was a worker who joined me as an animal handler on our outreach programs,” retired Turtle Back Zoo Education Coordinator Vince Sharp, who pointed out Mount’s favorite animals were the hedge hogs. “He was a committed Docent and to see him interact with children was genuine,” he added.

The bronze plaque begins with a quote by Sylvia Dolson, author of “Joy of Bears:” “Like us, animals feel love, joy, fear and pain, but they cannot grasp the spoken word. It is our obligation to speak on their behalf, ensuring their … lives are respected and protected.” It continues: “Ronald Mount was a man of many talents, skills and passions. A respected and successful businessman, devoted family man and generous philanthropist who dedicated time as well as funding to causes that ranged from education to health, he found a home here, at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. His first contribution was to the development of the initial new, major “natural habitat” exhibit of the Black Bears in 2004. From then on, he became a dedicated wildlife enthusiast, training as a Docent, so that he could teach visitors about the animals, and joining the Zoological Society Board of Trustees, so that he could help raise funds and develop programs for the continued revitalization of the Zoo. His joy in these activities was contagious, and his commitment, extraordinary. He well deserved being honored at the 50th Anniversary Gala of the Zoo for his many lasting contributions to the animals and the visitors to Turtle Back Zoo.”

Mount became involved in Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in 2005 when he generously contributed to the development of the Bears in Your Backyard exhibit. The bear exhibit was the first major addition to the Zoo during the DiVincenzo administration and marked the beginning of a number of exhibits designed to replicate the animals’ natural habitats. The 18,000-square-foot bear exhibit features two bears, named Jelly and Jam, and provides visitors with the experience that they are watching the bears from their own home.

Mount later joined the volunteer Docent Organization which assists Turtle Back Zoo staff with educational and outreach programs and became a board member of the Zoological Society of New Jersey, the fundraising arm of the Zoo. For his contributions, Mount was one of the honorees at the Turtle Back Zoo 50th Anniversary Gala in 2013. During the event, he and his grandson, Jasper, gave a speech to the more than 600 people in attendance.

Mount also was involved in other philanthropic and civic activities. He founded the Ronald J. Mount Educational Foundation, which was his own personal legacy of supporting educational opportunities for deserving individuals. He also had served as President of the American Cancer Association, President of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund in New Jersey and President of the Millburn Board of Education. Professionally, he was a successful real estate investor and was involved in the commercial and residential real estate market in Naples, Fla.

Mount passed away on April 23, 2015. Donations to benefit the Zoological Society of New Jersey can be made in his honor and sent to the Zoological Society of New Jersey, 560 Northfield Ave., West Orange, NJ 07052.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

 Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $70 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing a new Educational Building, the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with jaguars and cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with white cheeked gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. Funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo (Wachovia Bank), PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.

Anthony Puglisi
Lauren Shears