New Executive Director at the Zoo Society

Ruthann Howell, who led Wellspring Family Services of Seattle/King County through a long period of growth and successful capital project fundraising, is the new executive director of The Zoo Society.

She began her new duties at the nonprofit fundraising partner of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium on April 1. The Zoo Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is dedicated to providing financial support for the zoo’s conservation work, animal husbandry and care, and capital projects and exhibits.

“I’m ecstatic and grateful for the opportunity to help further the zoo’s mission of education, conservation, and research,” Howell said. “I look forward to inspiring the next generation about stewardship of our natural resources and wildlife. It’s a privilege to work with an engaged and visionary board and a committed and talented staff as we increase the monetary resources necessary to have an even greater impact.”

The Zoo Society’s Board of Directors selected Howell for the position following an exhaustive national search. She succeeds Lawrence Norvell, who retired last year.

“We were quite impressed with the depth and breadth of her experience in the nonprofit community and her demonstrated successes during a nearly-30-year career at Wellspring,” said Zoo Society Board President Heather Parkinson-Firestine. “We looked nationwide for great candidates to carry out The Zoo Society’s mission and vision,” she added. “We were excited to discover the right person for the job in our own backyard.”

Howell is passionate about helping children learn environmental stewardship and empathy for animals.

“Our family has been committed to conservation for years,” she said. Attendance at zoos and aquariums played an influential role in the education of her son, Howell said, who made the environment one of the focuses of his college studies.

As executive director of The Zoo Society, Howell is responsible for the daily operations and chief fundraiser for a 70-year-old organization overseen by a 22-member board of directors. The society raises and contributes funds to support the conservation and education work of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The organization raised more than $3.5 million to help fund elements of the recently opened Pacific Seas Aquarium.

Howell’s long nonprofit career includes 28 years at Wellspring Family Services, retiring from that position as president and chief executive officer in 2018; director of social services for The Salvation Army in Seattle; director of the Catherine Booth House for The Salvation Army in Seattle; and development of a children’s program at the YWCA Women’s Shelter in Tacoma.

She holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in sociology with minors in political science and Russian from Whitworth College in Spokane.

Her deep roots extend notonly in nonprofits, but also in community service. Howell has been a member of Seattle 4 Rotary for more than 23 years; a board member and past chair of the Vashon Schools Foundation; and a member of the Alliance for Strong Families and Strong Communities Resource Development Solutions Committee for 21 years.

“We heartily welcome Ruthann into the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium family,” said Alan Varsik, director of Zoological & Environmental Education for Metro Parks Tacoma. “The Zoo Society is an invaluable partner in the achievement of our conservation and education mission. “We are pleased to work together toward meeting our shared goals.”

The Zoo Society has four important fundraising events on the calendar for this year.

• The Zoo Society Luncheon, on May 7 at 11:30 am. This upcoming event will take place at Foss Waterway Seaport Museum, 705 Dock St., Tacoma. There is no charge to attend, but guests will be invited to make tax-deductible contributions to help fund conservation engagement and education programs at the zoo.

• Summer VIP Experience on July 19, at the zoo. The evening event will feature a five-course long-table dinner, music, dancing and close encounters with some zoo animals. Tickets are $200 for zoo members and $225 for members of the general public, and guests attending must be 21 and over.

• Zoo BOOze & Bites, held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on October 18, at the zoo. The evening includes tastes of beer, wine and distilled spirits from several area breweries, wineries and distilleries as well as signature eats from a number of fan-favorite restaurants. Tickets are $75 for guests who want to enjoy the various brews, wine and spirits, plus food, and $45 for guests who want unlimited soda and the tasty bites. Guests must be 21 and over.

• Holizooday Online Auction from Nov. 27 through Dec. 14 at Shoppers will be able to bid on an array of auction items, gift cards and experiences.

For more information, contact Mary Davidson at 253-404-3694 or