The following story originally published in the Daily Nonpareil's 40th Anniversary Hy-Vee special section, which ran Tuesday, Jan. 22. For more, check out the e-edition.
For nearly 25 years, visitors to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium have enjoyed a lovable collection of cold-water penguins — a major attraction at the aquarium. Yet visitors to the zoo seldom think about where the penguins came from or how they made their way to Omaha.
Getting the penguins to the metro area was quite an undertaking and, as with many community service projects, the folks at the metro area Hy-Vee stores were right in the thick of things.
When managers of the area Hy-Vee stores suggested to the zoo they might be willing to help fund the purchase of the penguins, zoo officials had a different idea.
The zoo had already arranged to have 40 penguins on permanent loan from Sea World in Florida and money to purchase the penguins was not needed. However, zoo officials quickly proposed another way Hy-Vee might help. They asked the Hy-Vee representatives if they would be willing to fund the cost of getting the penguins from Florida to Omaha. Hy-Vee’s answer was yes.
But instead of simply hiring an outside trucking firm to transport the penguins, the Hy-Vee representatives had a different idea of their own. Why not bring the penguins to Omaha in a modified Hy-Vee refrigerated trailer?
Pat Hensley, then-store director of the Council Bluffs North 16th Street Hy-Vee location, became the point man for the undertaking. It was a project that captured nationwide attention.
Hensley began by negotiating with Hy-Vee’s Chariton distribution center to purchase a used reefer trailer. He then had the trailer outfitted as a penguin motor home, complete with shaved ice, daylight simulating lights and closed circuit television cameras.
All the metro area Hy-Vee stores put up funds to pay for the trailer, hire approved drivers and underwrite the cost of the trip. Several of Hy-Vee vendors also provided funds for the endeavor.
Next, Hensley lined up a semi from Perishable Distributors of Iowa to pull the penguin trailer. Then on Feb. 10, 1995 the trailer headed for Orlando. Hensley and several zoo staff members also made the trip in a recreational vehicle. Four days later, on Valentine’s Day, 30 of the Sea World penguins were loaded into their temporary home on wheels. The load was 10 penguins short of the 40 Sea World had committed. Instead of heading back to Omaha, the two-vehicle convoy took off for the Sea World Facility in San Antonio, Texas, where the other 10 birds would be picked up. Then it was back to Omaha.
The “Penguin Parade,” as the media had dubbed it, arrived in Omaha during the early morning hours of Feb.17, right on schedule.
Excitement surrounded the arrival of the penguins, which quickly made the 155,000-gallon pool of icy salt water in aquarium their new domain.
It was an undertaking that Hensley, now retired, still takes pride in today.
Looking back on the project, Hensley said he always had a soft spot in his heart for the zoo and he felt helping to bring the penguins was “the right thing to do for the community.”
Doing the right thing for the community is always Hy-Vee’s goal whether it’s bringing penguins to a zoo or helping with efforts to make the communities, in which Hy-Vee does business, better places to live and raise a family.
Four years after helping to bring penguins to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the Council Bluffs and Omaha area Hy-Vee stores joined together for a second major contribution.
In 1999, the stores purchased and help transport three white rhinoceroses from South Africa.