A Great Loss
Sadly, Dr. Harry’s heart condition and ill health had taken its toll. In 1941, he passed away at his home on June 25, at the age of 59.
A colleague commented that it was probably his own talents as a diagnostician and doctor that had kept him going as long as he did. This was a tremendous blow to the Zoo and its staff. They had lost their fearless leader.
On the day of the funeral, everyone at the Zoo worked until it was time for the service, because they knew that’s what Dr. Harry would have wanted. Then the Zoo was closed, and everyone came to pay their heartfelt respects. In her Zoo records, Belle Benchley wrote: “This day marks the greatest change the zoo has ever known, and the saddest. In fact, it still seems like an insurmountable loss. Doctor Harry Wegeforth, founder and builder of our zoo, its untiring and relentless promoter, succumbed to the bad heart condition from which he had suffered so long. The members of the staff who had served with him during the many years at the zoo know what his loss means, and what a burden of responsibility has fallen upon them. The men and women who have known him only during the later, easier years cannot have any conception of the gigantic task he has left.”
When Belle gathered the staff, she said to them, “Who can even approach Doctor Wegeforth in the time, the attention, and service he rendered for our zoo? We do not say, ‘Who will take his place?’ We say, ‘How will we get the things he did accomplished?'” Later, in a quiet moment, she confided to staff member Ken Stott, Jr. “I have never felt so all alone in all my life.” But true to the pioneering “can do” spirit that Dr. Harry had always demonstrated himself and had instilled in the staff, she “got on with it”—as she knew he would want her to.