LaMar Farnsworth, who ran Hogle Zoo for more than three decades, died last week at age 86.

Farnsworth’s 33 years as zoo director covered some of the biggest, and most controversial, developments at the zoo. When he retired in 1997, he was the longest serving zoo director in the nation.

He was hired as an animal keeper in 1953 and became director in 1964 after the previous director, Gerald deBary, was fatally bitten by a puff adder, according to a timeline on Hogle Zoo’s website. (The zoo, originally in Liberty Park, moved in 1931 to 50 acres on Sunnyside Avenue donated by Mr. and Mrs. James A. Hogle.)

In the decades that followed, the zoo was transformed from a display for exotic animals in cages to an ever-growing collection of habitats for endangered species. In a 1994 interview, Farnsworth told The Salt Lake Tribune that the zoo had grown from 200 animals to 1,400 under his leadership, and from 50,000 to 800,000 visitors per year.

"I’ve seen this zoo grow from nothing to what it is today,'' he said.

(Russell Odell | Tribune file photo) In this 1965 photograph, Hogle Zoo director LaMar Farnsworth holds a baby jaguar.

“He was so gentle,” said Jim Hogle, son of the zoo’s original benefactors and namesakes, in a statement released by the zoo. “He was a very, very kind man. He was that way with everyone he met. I never saw him do anything in anger. Even playing golf with him.”

A great apes building opened the year after he became director, followed by structures for giraffes, big cats, small animals and a complex for elephants and hippos. In the 1980s, habitats were built for snow leopards and endangered primates, and a new great apes building was constructed.

Farnsworth lived in the director’s home on the zoo grounds, with his wife, Hazel, and their six children. Before the zoo had an animal hospital, Hogle recalled, “he’d take home the sick animals. I went up there one morning and went in, and he had a sick sea lion in one of their bathtubs, and the house just stunk.”

Farnsworth’s tenure also brought criticism — including multiple federal investigations into conditions at the zoo during the 1990s and, the year before his retirement, fines over the deaths of several animals. The Humane Society of Utah called for Farnsworth’s resignation, but the board of the zoo backed him and kept him on after his retirement to advise the new director.

Farnsworth said funding was a challenge. In 1991, he took a young orangutan to the state Capitol building to secure $1 million — the first time the zoo’s appropriation was included in the state budget.

The zoo’s primate forest, which replaced Monkey Island in 1996, is named for Farnsworth.

"My life, my heart and my soul are in every exhibit, every animal in Utah’s Hogle Zoo,'' Farnsworth said in a 1996 news release announcing his retirement the following year. "I gave this job every single ounce of energy I had.''

A. LaMar Farnsworth was born March 9, 1933, in Duchesne, Utah. He attended Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.

Farnsworth is survived by his wife, Hazel; five children: Allan L. (Carol), Shauna (Tim) Swainston, Lyn S. (Karin), Terry (Eric) Lyman and Laura Akgiray; 25 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren. His son Kent Ronald Farnsworth died previously.

Funeral services will be held Thursday, Oct. 24, at 10 a.m. at the Canyon Rim Ward Building, 1050 E. Galena Drive, Sandy, according to Larkin Mortuary. In lieu of flowers, his family suggested people “enjoy a day with your family at Utah’s Hogle Zoo,” or contribute to the Mission Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.