Mission and History

A Powerful Partnership

The public/private partnership behind Como Friends has fueled 20 years of improvements at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

Our Mission:

We inspire community generosity in support of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory so it thrives for generations to come.

Como Friends’ History


1999Como Zoo & Conservatory Society incorporates as a nonprofit, combining the forces of several previous nonprofits and docent groups into a single, unified fundraising entity.


2002The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory gets a new name and a generous endowment fund created by the McNeely family. In her lifetime, Marjorie McNeely was a president of the St. Paul Garden Club and a long-time supporter of the historic Como Conservatory.


2003Facing lay-offs forced by tough city budget cuts, Como Friends steps in to fund two zookeeping positions and invests in operant conditioning training as the Sparky the Sea Lion show takes a progressive new approach.


2004Success with Como’s pinnipeds inspires an expansion of Como Zoo’s animal training programs, paid for by Como Friends. Today, Como zoo keepers are nationally known for their successful training efforts.


The Como Zoo & Conservatory Society completes an $8 million capital campaign to unveil the new Visitor Center, uniting the historic Zoo and Conservatory with a single entrance and a shared mission.


The Como Zoo & Conservatory Society changes its name to Como Friends.


2009Support from Como Friends pays for growing partnerships between Como Zoo and conservation efforts in the field, including orangutan survival efforts in southeast Asia and amphibian preservation efforts for the Wyoming toad.


2010The public phase of the Campaign for Como kicks off, and Polar Bear Odyssey is opened to the public in June. Como Friends also advocates to preserve $11 million in public funding for Gorilla Forest when lawmakers threaten to revoke funding.


2011In December, the Campaign for Como reaches its goal, securing the $2.8 million necessary to start construction on The Ordway Gardens wing.


2012Como Friends’ fundraiser ZooBoo celebrates its 25th anniversary, becoming one of the longest-running benefits for any Twin Cities nonprofit.


2013In preparation for the new Ordway Gardens wing, Como Friends helps reshape the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden to better reflect the original intent of designer Masami Matsuda by supporting the work of international garden consultant John Powell.


2014Como Friends provides funding to continue the creation of more naturalistic habitats at Como Zoo, including a make-over for the African Hoofstock building, and a design plan for a remodeled seal and sea lion exhibit. Thanks to generous supporters and a successful strategic plan, Como Friends’ fundraising capacity is up by more than 50 percent since 2009.


2015To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, Como Friends leverages private contributions to match a Minnesota Legacy Fund gift toward the Centennial Garden, a new landscape garden next to Como’s Visitor Center.


On June 7, 2017 the official groundbreaking took place for the new Como Harbor exhibit. This transformational improvement includes: a new Sparky amphitheater, extensive salt water pools that will make Como Harbor a four-season experience for seals and sea lions, and new amenities including a new food service building and public restroom facilities. Construction is progressing nicely and has been watched by our curious young visitors and adults alike. The $20 million improvement was made possible by the $15 million in public funding, and private contributions to Como Friends. Final funding for the project was successfully secured by Como Friends in December 2018.


Como Friends leverages private contributions to complete the new Huelsmann Meditative Garden, the tranquil karesansui (“dry landscape”) garden that now greets visitors on their way into The Ordway Gardens: A Japanese Collection. Created by John Powell, a national expert on Japanese garden design.


 If it’s been awhile since your last visit to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, you’ll be amazed by the transformation that’s taken place on Como Harbor in the heart of Como Zoo. This long-awaited improvement made fast progress in 2020, with a new amphitheater, year-round salt water pools and a naturalistic Pacific Northwest feel that’s nearly complete. “If there’s a silver lining to this time of uncertainty at Como, it would be that it gave  construction crews a chance to make great progress on Como Harbor without inconveniencing our guests as much as we’d expected it to in 2020,” says Sticha.

Contributions from Como Friends also enabled Como to move ahead on a floor to ceiling renovation of the Aquatic Animals building, removing the historic fish tanks, and replacing them with more engaging  microhabitats for lion fish and even a giant Pacific octopus. The steady pace of progress on both projects turned out to be an unexpected attraction for Como’s reservation-only visitors this summer. “Visitors were very excited to see how far construction on Como Harbor has come, and told us how much they are looking forward to seeing and experiencing these improvements in 2021,” Sticha says. “During a challenging year, it was wonderful to see such a visible sign of what Como’s future will be.”


After years of dreaming, designing and digging, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory’s new seals and sea lions habitat is now completed. Minnesotans got their first chance to see Como Harbor on June 3, 2021. “We hope they are proud of Como Harbor. The new $21 million habitat improvement was made possible through a public/private partnership. Minnesota’s legislators approved $15 million in public funding for this long-awaited improvement; individuals, corporations and foundations were inspired to contribute $4.5 million; and Lancer Hospitality—the restaurant partner at Como—contributed $1.5 million for the new Pier 56 restaurant.” —Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends

More About the History of Como Friends

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is the most visited cultural institution in the state of Minnesota, welcoming more than five generations of families since 1897.

Making sure this regional treasure has the resources it needs to serve and inspire two million annual visitors is the mission of Como Friends, Como’s nonprofit fundraising partner. Created by a merger of several docent and support groups in 1999, Como Friends has been the driving force behind more than a decade of improvements that have elevated the care Como Zoo can provide for more than 1,000 animals, preserved the historic integrity of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, and transformed the campus with a shared Visitor Center, immersive new habitats and growing horticultural displays.

The successful public/private partnership forged by Como Friends has leveraged more than $35 million in new investment toward capital projects and community programs at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory that include:

  • Visionary capital improvements such as the Visitor Center, Tropical Encounters, Polar Bear Odyssey and The Ordway Gardens wing.
  • Annual investments in programs and improvements to benefit animals, gardens and visitors. Recent efforts include the Conservatory’s new Centennial Garden, a “face-lift” for Como Zoo’s historic African Hoofstock building, the restoration of the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden, and the continued expansion of conservation education programs that now reach more than 500,000 children and adults each year.
  • Creation and growth of endowment funds to support garden and animal habitat improvements and education initiatives. Since Como Friends’ incorporation in 2000, funds have grown from $12,000 to $6.1 million, providing sustainable funding for Como’s second century of service to our community.