We’re so sad to say goodbye to Melvin Francis, our Wildlife Carousel Lead Operator who retired this week. “I just want to say thank you for all the waves, smiles, blow kisses, hi-fives and hugs I’ve received over the years,” smiles Melvin, “My goal was always to go beyond the borders to make someone’s day extra special when they visited the zoo, and I feel I’ve done that with so many people.”
Melvin was at his post for nearly ten years, joining us when we built the carousel in May 2004. When he began, he effortlessly carried out the routine of the job. “But it felt incomplete to just stand there and watch it go around,” commented Melvin, and he added his signature wave to the children as they passed. “I also wanted to add something special as the ride ended, so I came up with ‘Top of the day to you!’ as they departed,” and he stuck with it as a crowd favorite over the years along with his smile-inducing “Bye!”
Working at the carousel has left Melvin with countless amusing memories. “One time a young kid brought me a candy bar, and I said ‘you have a free ride – no charge for you today.’ I ended up giving her two free rides. Then she got off, came up and asked for the candy bar back! I couldn’t say no, it was so funny.”
Over the years Melvin has seen toddlers grow into teens who keep coming back to ride their favorite animals. He was able to say hello to a number of after-school regulars and get to know many familiar faces. “It’s beautiful to see the joy the carousel ride brings to all these kids. What’s even better is to see them sharing that with the parents – to win the confidence and love of the parents through the happiness of the kids.”
And not just children can be carousel addicts. “One older couple had a goal of riding every single animal on the carousel – there are 64 animals. I saw them every single Saturday for months! They didn’t take any notes, just remembered which they’d ridden on and which they hadn’t, and kept coming back to ride a few times each week until they’d done them all.”
In addition to entertaining the carousel’s daytime visitors, the carousel also runs during a number of evening events. One of Melvin’s favorites was Dream Night, an annual event the zoo hosts for chronically ill and disabled children and their families. “Of all the nights of the year, that was one of the best to be able to participate in, to give something to those kids and their families.”
Melvin plans to spend more of his new free time with his three-year-old granddaughter. “The nickname I gave her is ‘cheetah girl.’ I’ll be bringing her to the zoo and to the carousel!”
Thank you Melvin for all the precious memories you’ve given to so many zoo visitors over the years.