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Ol' C.C. was put on display on the first floor of Heer's Department Store. Bent Agee, the president of the club, says the elephant spread straw all over the men's suit department when she was left there overnight.
Ol' C.C. was put on display on the first floor of Heer's Department Store. Bent Agee, the president of the club, says the elephant spread straw all over the men's suit department when she was left there overnight.

After 5: Remembering Ol' C.C.

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The reason for buying an elephant for Springfield’s Dickerson Park Zoo, Bent Agee says, is as simple today as it was in 1954.

“Well, they didn’t have one,” says Agee, who at the time was president of the Springfield Metro Club, a group of young professionals who raised $6,500 to purchase the zoo’s first elephant, Ol’ C.C.

Agee, 89, is reminiscent of those days, especially in the wake of the female elephant’s death last month. Ol’ C.C. died Aug. 4 at the age of 61, according to Melinda Arnold, the zoo’s public relations director. For 25 years, Ol’ C.C. was the lone elephant at the zoo.

Peanuts pay off
For three months in 1954, the Metro Club worked to raise money and even formed an elephant committee of Agee, Chairman Bill DeFriese, Leon Hooper, Graydon Wheeler, Larry Eiffert, Jess Hollar and Ed Monroe.

The most successful fundraiser, Agee says, was the sale of peanuts by area schoolchildren with approval by the school superintendents.

“They allowed us to bring in Planters peanuts and let the kids sell them,” says Agee, who worked at Heer’s Department Store for 40 years, before retiring in 1986 as controller and senior vice president. “A lot of money was raised that way.”

The group, which disbanded around 1960, also sold shares of stock in the elephant and held several theatrical productions at the Shrine Mosque as fundraisers. Radio and newspaper publicity also helped raise money, Agee says.

“We had so much interest, so many articles in the paper. Of course, we all knew a lot of people and roped friends into it,” he adds. “There’s no doubt that everybody in this county and around knew that we were going to buy an elephant.”

One fundraiser, Agee recalls, involved a Springfield radio station doing a call-in pledge show and members of the Metro Club listening in cars and going to the contributors’ homes to collect. And their efforts didn’t stop there.

“One day, just for show, we had some pies thrown in our faces on the square,” Agee says. “We were all young and ambitious, ready to put in extra time, what have you.”

Agee even dressed as “Mr. Peanut” to sell peanuts at Heer’s and on the Springfield Public Square.

“I was in the costume to get the word out,” Agee recalls. “I had the pretty girls sitting on my lap.”

Nearly derailed
Once the club was ready to buy the elephant, Agee says its plans were nearly derailed. The club planned to purchase an elephant in California, but elephant committee member Hollar found a less expensive elephant – Ol’ C.C. – in Florida.

The club changed its plans and was finally able to purchase Ol’ C.C. for $3,850 on May 28, 1954, from Rare Bird Farm in Miami, according to a bill of sale presented to the city. The group spent another $2,650 to ship the 1-ton elephant and two black Himalayan bears that were included in the deal to Springfield.

According to Greene County Circuit Court Juvenile Division documents, the Metro Club legally adopted the elephant, who was 5 years old and named Minyahk at the time. The elephant was renamed Ol’ C.C. after popular Springfield weatherman C.C. Williford, an honorary lifetime member of the Metro Club.

Dickerson Park Zoo will forever be thankful to Agee and the Metro Club, says Arnold.

“I’m not sure that those gentlemen and the public that worked with them really knew how much of an impact they were going to have on the zoo and the Springfield community as a whole,” Arnold says. “They were very forward thinking.”

The zoo currently has one male and three female elephants and has gained national acclaim for its elephant breeding program. In 1997, the zoo received the Edward H. Bean Award from the
Association of Zoos and Aquariums for commitment to management of elephants in a zoo setting.[[In-content Ad]]

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