Zoo officials said in a news release that founder and owner Mickey Ollson died on Jan. 9 after a short battle with cancer. He was 80 years old.
The zoo recalled Ollson as a "dreamer" determined since childhood to open his own zoo.
Ollson was a teacher but retired in his mid-40s to pursue running his own zoo.
Ollson opened the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park in 1984.
He is survived by his wife, Connie, four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Memorial services are pending.
In lieu of flowers, Ollson's family is asking for donations to Save Giraffes Now at https://savegiraffesnow.org/donate/.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.
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