In 1989 on the first tee at the newly reopened Como Park golf course, after watching my grandfather’s drive slice across two fairways and bank off a tree, I learned that golf is as much educational as it is recreational. “Grandpa, you missed,” I said, playfully jabbing at my hero. “Yeah, but that’s alright,” he replied with a smile. “Hitting a tree is good luck for your next shot.” “Oh!” I gleefully said, while altering my aim for a majestic birch 100 yards away. “Wait,” my grandfather said while he corrected my stance. “It doesn’t work if you try to hit it. It’s like a lucky penny. You can’t put it down and then pick it up.” This made perfect sense to my eight-year-old brain.
My dad, William LaMont Kaufman, was superintendent of Saint Paul Parks for thirty-four years. He dearly loved his job, and because he did, approximately one-third of our childhood was spent in his beloved parks. Como, our favorite, offered so much to children as well as to adults. Our dad taught us the name of each plant in the conservatory and the outside gardens, not only in English but also in Latin. Many Sunday nights were Como Nights, when we sometimes brought a picnic and raced to find Dad’s name on plaques in the zoo and conservatory. But his love for Como extended to other parks: Harriet Island, Phalen, Highland, and his smaller treasures—Hidden Falls, Rice, Irvine, Kellogg, Lilydale, Indian Mounds, Mears, and Newell, among others.
Saint Paul’s iconic Como Zoo has long been a charming, peaceful place to enjoy creatures great and small. But one morning in 1994, the zoo was anything but peaceful. I was working by the giraffes when a vendor came running toward me. Her words were a zookeeper’s worst nightmare: “You better come quick. One of the gorillas is out!”