Butterfly garden at Topeka Zoo dedicated to Mayor Larry Wolgast

In a surprise announcement Thursday afternoon, Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast learned the Topeka Zoo’s butterfly garden would be named in his honor.


Local officials praised Wolgast’s leadership at the celebration that included many people who had been appointed to boards or committees by Wolgast. However, he hadn’t been informed of the event’s true purpose.

“I was genuinely surprised,” Wolgast said after other speakers had concluded. “This is extremely meaningful.”

In making the announcement, zoo director Brendan Wiley said the dedication was fitting because Wolgast made Topeka one of the “Mayors for Monarchs” cities, referring to Wolgast’s proclamation last year designating August 2016 in Topeka as “Pledge to Help Save the Monarch Butterfly Month.”

At that time, Wolgast said the National Wildlife Federation had contacted him the previous year while organizing mayors across the nation to take the “Mayors’ Monarch Pledge” to aid monarch butterflies. The species’ population has plummeted, and Wiley said conservation efforts are important to the zoo.

The butterfly garden along the path that passes the Big Gage Shelterhouse inside the zoo features plants that provide shelter and food for the monarchs. Wiley said a plaque placed in the garden will read, “Honoring Mayor Larry E. Wolgast, encouraging new growth citywide for a thriving and prosperous community,” along with the starting and ending dates of Wolgast’s mayoral terms.

The garden’s dedication was “a small thank-you for (Wolgast’s) selfless service,” Wiley said.

Business leader Jim Parrish, a longtime friend of Wolgast, spoke of the outgoing mayor as “a quiet, disciplined persuader” who had been able to move mountains to achieve great things for the community.

“He understands the need for a high quality of life for all Topekans,” Parrish said.

Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, noted that Thursday’s event was only the beginning of a celebration of Wolgast’s service, whose term ends in January. He said he has never seen a mayor as effective as Wolgast.

“The seeds he has sown will reap benefits for decades in this community,” Pivarnik said.

Topeka Capital-Journal publisher Zach Ahrens and Vince Frye, president and CEO of Downtown Topeka Inc., also spoke highly of Wolgast’s personality and leadership.

Many people then participated in a butterfly release at the butterfly garden on the east side of the Big Gage Shelterhouse.

Contact reporter Samantha Foster at (785) 295-1186 or @samfoster_ks on Twitter.