By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by Sara Reeves | Hair & Makeup by Suzy Balkman with Bristle + Balm | Wardrobe from Barbara Jean | Wine provided by O’Looney’s Wine & Liquor
Life is an adventure for Kelly Rigby, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Planned perfection seems pretty boring,” she notes. “The stories are always better when things get a little messy and don’t go exactly as planned.” Cue the animals… An evening at the Little Rock Zoo guarantees the wildest time in town with some real party animals and certainly a dash of the unexpected. And this year’s chairman promises the Capital City’s favorite food and wine festival will not disappoint. Presented by the Arkansas Zoological Foundation, Wild Wines features 200 wonderful wines + light bites from more than 40 of the town’s tastiest restaurants. Kelly boasts, “This year, we’re bringing the PARTY! And back, by popular demand, both evenings will be hosted at the zoo.”
The VIP Reserve Wine Room in Café Africa offers patrons an exclusive opportunity to sample world-class wines curated by Jonathan Looney and his team of experts at O’Looney’s Wine & Liquor. O’Looney’s Wine & Liquor has been a beloved West Little Rock establishment for nearly two decades and continues to improve the landscape of Central Arkansas through strategic partnerships and a panache for discerning wine enthusiasts. Jonathan, a certified wine specialist and wine sommelier, explains, “Wild Wines allows us to connect with the community in a relaxed and engaging environment. It’s our job to find the best wines in the world for our clients, and this event gives us the chance to share those wines with the community on an enormous scale. For us, it’s just like throwing the best-ever wine party and getting to invite the whole state!”
At the Mane Event, guests are encouraged to mix and mingle with Little Rock Zoo Animal Ambassadors and docents who serve as hosts for the evening’s festivities. “It’s a very cool experience to be able to wander around the zoo at night. Everyone loves it,” Kelly says. Live entertainment is another attraction – featuring five local bands at key locations throughout the zoo. “There’s beer and other beverages for those who prefer variety, and not necessarily wine. It’s as much about the fabulous food as the FUN.”
A popular tourist attraction, welcoming more than 300,000 visitors annually, many people don’t realize the Little Rock Zoo is not completely supported by tax revenue from the City of Little Rock. For nearly a century, the zoo has provided a special place for families to experience “the natural world around us,” Little Rock Zoo Director Susan Altrui explains. “The zoo encourages an appreciation for wildlife and wild places and the overall respect for all living things. It can also inspire global change.” She notes that many doctors, researchers, biologists and scientists first realized their interest in the natural world through zoos.
Education is a critical component of the zoo’s mission. “In addition to being a place to come and enjoy the wonders of nature, the zoo’s outreach programs literally bring the zoo to you! From schools to nursing homes and other groups that may not be able to travel to Little Rock – the zoo provides education and conservation initiatives that highlight the importance of protecting endangered wildlife,” Kelly explains.
Proceeds from Wild Wines support new exhibits and educational programming. Completed projects include Laura P. Nichols Penguin Pointe, Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost, the Diamond Express Train and the Arkansas Heritage Farm as well as recent renovations of the Education Building and Conservation Play Area. This year, the foundation plans to continue improvements to the Little Rock Zoo’s amenities and infrastructure.
In addition to Kelly’s continued commitment to the Little Rock Zoo – she’s served on the Wild Wines committee for the past four years – civic leadership and community service are paramount among her priorities as a native Arkansan. “When I was younger, I moved away and then something always brought me back to Arkansas,” she admits. A quick trip to Wyoming turned into five years in the Wild West, but “like a boomerang” she returned to the Natural State. Her Southern roots and sense of adventure for the great outdoors remain steadfast. “I love to travel, but I love to come home. I’ve met some of my best and dearest friends through volunteering – their energy inspires me. I want to make Little Rock the best it can be.”
Champagne: “It’s like glitter in a glass. Who doesn’t love that?”
Hiking: “Rocky Valley Trail at Pinnacle Park is a personal fave.”
Baking: “I won three blue ribbons and Best in Show at the Teton County Fair.”
Good Company: “As long as there’s good company, I’m along for the ride.”