WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. dedicated a memorial plaque in honor of the late John P. Doeffinger, a longtime member of the volunteer docent organization at Turtle Back Zoo and president of the Zoological Society of New Jersey, the fundraising arm of the zoo. The plaque is located on the patio behind the zoo’s Education Building and was dedicated on Friday, Oct. 18. A lifelong resident of Belleville, Doeffinger died Jan. 13, 2019, at the age of 60.
“It was evident that John loved animals and he loved Turtle Back Zoo,” DiVincenzo said. “John was the consummate ambassador for Turtle Back. He dedicated a great deal of his time volunteering as a docent and sharing his knowledge and passion about animals with our visitors. As a member and then president of the Zoological Society, he supported the modernization of Turtle Back and its transformation into a family destination.”
“Turtle Back Zoo brought a sense of purpose to my uncle’s life and brought together the many things he loved — his family, animals and Turtle Back Zoo. Thank you for honoring a very special, remarkable man,” said Doeffinger’s niece, Kelly Velez.
“John found great joy in his family, his rescue pets and the zoo. His dedication here was his most profound accomplishment,” said Doeffinger’s sister, Karen Frisch.
“Turtle Back Zoo has always been important to me and its turnaround would not have been possible without John. He put so much time and effort into making it what it is today,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said.
“John inspired generations with his knowledge of animals and his history of the zoo,” zoo curator Samantha Wegman said.
“John was a key member of the zoo who embodied its mission,” docent coordinator Randi Laxler said.
“We want to thank John’s family for letting him spend so much time with us. He dedicated so much of himself here,” Zoological Society Executive Director Adam Kerins said.
The bronze plaque reads: “An environmental biologist and chemist by profession, John Doeffinger loved animals and enjoyed sharing his knowledge about them with other people. John was happiest when he was volunteering as a docent at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, a position he held for 22 years. At Turtle Back, he often was seen interacting with the public and educating our next generation of environmental stewards about the importance of animals and conservation. John also generously gave his time to the zoo as a member of the Zoological Society of New Jersey, TBZ’s fundraising arm, and led that organization as its president for 14 years until the time of his passing. He supported the myriad of projects to modernize animal exhibits, enhance visitor amenities and transform the facility into an education and recreation destination, making it one of the fastest growing zoos in the country. We thank John for his commitment and dedication to Turtle Back Zoo and for working with us to continue Putting Essex County and Turtle Back Zoo First.”