For over 25 years, families have been marvelled by Christmas lights every year at the Calgary Zoo. But did you know the brilliant mind behind that was from Foothills County? 

Donna Waldorf worked as marketing manager at the zoo when she came up with the idea of a Christmas light show.  

“One of Donna's wishes was that it really become a tradition and you can really see that as it gets closer to Christmas,” said Deputy Reeve of Foothills County and Donna’s widow, Don Waldorf. 

Waldorf spoke to Okotoks Online and High River Online about Zoolights and how the tradition is still strong, thanks to Donna’s passion.  

“The groups that show up at the zoo, you can see grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and family groups, so it really has become a tradition for a lot of people,” he said. 

Donna Waldorf was born in Winnipeg in 1961 but called the Calgary area home for many years. She was not only instrumental in starting Zoolights but also gave her time to the Calgary Stampede and K-Days in Edmonton. 

Donna passed away after a battle with cancer in February 2019. Don explained that doctors believed she might not make it to Christmas, so her funeral was planned for around that time, in line with Zoolights. Instead, a celebration of life took place in August but the lights were still shining. 

“The zoo recreated Zoolights in the Conservatory at the zoo,” he said. “It was an amazing event and I know that there are people that have a little fond memory of Donna because knowing someone that was actively involved in the start of it has a special place in some people's hearts.” 

Thousands of people flock to the Calgary Zoo for the Zoolights tradition and last year, the Zoo reported its highest attendance in 90 years with the lights being a key reason for the spike. 

Don said he occasionally volunteers his time at the zoo and that his biggest enjoyment is seeing the smiles from all families enjoying the Zoolights. 

He said it always brings warmth to his heart and so many people. 

"Maybe people are going through some tough times or have some other challenges,” he said. “But I think it gives people a break and that's probably my most fun memory and the result of what Donna did over 25 years ago.” 

Zoolights are scheduled to run from late November to early January.