COLUMBUS, Ohio - it was one of countless unexpected fan encounters Jack Hanna has had over the years. But this one stuck with him.
It happened in an airport when a woman asked about his famous hat, which, she was displeased to learn, is made of Australian kangaroo.
"And she started yelling at me, and I said, ma’am, I’m sorry, calm down for gosh’s sakes, you know, I didn’t eat the kangaroo, for gosh’s sakes," Hanna said. "Then she got mad at me and left. That’s my story about the hat."
It turns out, Hanna wasn't necessarily a fan of hats before being encouraged to wear one. Soon, it became a staple of his wardrobe, much like his all-over khaki. And his permanent statue at the zoo, installed to celebrate his 40th anniversary with the zoo, is even wearing a hat.
That statue solidifies a legacy that has grown during the past four decades, spreading his impact across the nation and around the world. But his heart will always be here in Ohio. After all, that's where he met his wife, when they both attended Muskingum University.
"This city of Columbus has literally, not just changed our lives, it saved our lives basically and let me live a dream of working in a zoo," Hanna said. "And so I can’t thank the good Lord and this whole city for helping the Hanna family."
Hanna is referring to the move from Knoxville to Columbus years ago, when his daughter Julie needed care for her cancer at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Back in Ohio was where his career and star power really started to blossom.
He started to appear on television after the birth of twin gorillas at the zoo. And soon, he was a household name.
Now, he travels the country on speaking tours, and he ventures abroad for his television shows.
Still, his heart is never far from home.
"The Columbus Zoo is really Suzi's and my home. It’s not just our home, it’s something that our family, myself, until I leave the planet earth, I’ll never forget what this zoo has done for our family as well as how it’s led me into dreams of the world," he said.