AS ONE OF THE COUNTRY'S TOP 10 ZOOS, the Oklahoma City Zoological Park and Botanical Garden has long been a favorite destination for thousands of people, but it’s unclear how many of those visitors to the zoo are aware of one of its most fascinating attractions, Tara Henson.
The bubbly and gregarious Henson serves as the zoo’s public relations and marketing director. A self-proclaimed “princess/tomboy,” Henson brings her love for people, animals and nature to what seems to be more of an extended play date than a job.
How long have you worked for the zoo?
I came here in the fall of 1991, thinking I’d stay maybe five years, through the completion of some expansion projects that were on the horizon at the time – yeah, that was more than five years ago.
What’s the best part of your job?
I work at the zoo! What’s not to love?
Who do you think you could be mistaken for?
Wonder Woman … ha! Recently, a friend said I looked like Helena Bonham Carter and I often hear Janeane Garofalo or Janine Turner.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
“Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver.
What’s your most treasured possession?
A handmade quilt, passed down from my grandmother. But some of my other treasured possessions were toys and things from my childhood – most that I don’t have any more. For instance, my Klackers had to be removed from our house.
I tried to knock out both my eyes with Klackers!
As did I, but I broke an ashtray – well, I call it an ashtray; my mother called it ‘an important ceramic art piece’ – so the Klackers couldn’t stay. I also loved those dolls that had hair that would ‘grow’ when you pulled her ponytail out of her head …
Velvet and Chrissy!
Yes! I pulled out the ponytail first thing and cut it off because, well, they said it would grow back and I believed them.
You must have been a busy child.
My mom had her hands full when I was growing up. I was a very active and spirited child – wildly imaginative and, I’m sure, exhausting. I was sort of a ‘princess/tomboy,’ – you know, dresses with shorts underneath.
For climbing the monkey bars, of course.
Where does the “princess” part figure in?
When I was about 10, I decided I wanted to be in a beauty pageant – “Our Little Miss” – and even though she didn’t understand my impulse, my mom was all on board. She hired a pageant coach and consultant and we went to Tammy-Linn’s to buy a really fancy pageant dress.
(The interview is interrupted briefly while the two of us spontaneously erupt into the Tammy-Linn’s jingle, circa 1973.)
How did the pageant turn out?
My mom was really stressed the night before. She was planning to cut my bangs …
So, to give her less to worry about, I just cut them myself. After her meltdown, she called my grandmother, who did her best to repair the damage. I ended up with a serious backcomb and a lot of hairspray.
What do you laugh at that you really shouldn’t?
Let’s just say that I value sarcasm when utilized properly.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
What recent purchase are you madly in love with?
Mizuno Women’s Wave EVO Cursoris running shoes. Happy feet = happy girl!
What do you wish you had known 10 years ago?
That I wouldn’t have many more years with my Dad on this earth. I guess I wouldn’t have wanted to know, but I would have liked more time with him. I definitely miss our late-night calls.
Do you have any hidden talents?
They shall remain a mystery. A woman should have a little mystery.
What’s your favorite hole-in-the-wall in OKC?
Weekend breakfast at Jimmy’s Egg (the Classen location) with friends is a standard. Shout out to my favorite waitperson extraordinaire, Mary!
Speaking of shout-outs, do you have a nonprofit shout-out?
Other than OZS ZooFriends, of course, I’d have to say Other Options and Central Oklahoma Humane Society.
If you could have another name, what would it be?
Super Tara … I love my name!
Which character traits did you inherit from your mother?
A hard work ethic, kindness, tender-heartedness and genuine goodness. I owe my Mom for instilling these virtues in me.
What are the most important lessons she taught you?
To be myself, to have faith, to trust in God, to follow the Golden Rule.
What did you get in the most trouble for when you were young?
Talking. Such a shock, I know.