Bonus for the big cats

Submitted photo / Carlton BishopBilly Mauff, center, owner of WHM Motorsports, presents a check for $20,000 to city officials on Aug. 2 to be used toward expansion of the big cat exhibit at the Washington Park Zoo, which is expected to break ground this winter.  

MICHIGAN CITY – The 11th annual Great Lakes Grand Prix is expected to bring more than $12 million to the local economy when final figures are tabulated, but the Michigan City Zoo has already received an unexpected gift.

Billy Mauff, owner of WHM Motorsports, has been visiting Michigan City for years and never misses an opportunity to see the animals at the Washington Park Zoo before the race, according to Billy Warner, vice president of the Michigan City Zoological Society.

Last year, during the post-race awards ceremony, Mauff pledged to make a donation of $10,000 to the zoo toward funding the expansion of the big cat exhibit, he said.

"This year, at the Racer Meet & Greet at Blue Chip Casino on Friday (Aug. 2), Mauff shocked the Zoological Society by doubling the pledged amount to $20,000," Warner said.

“I’m completely shocked!” Warner said. “Billy shares our love of the animals and never ceases to amaze us with his generosity."

Warner said the Zoological Society’s primary purpose is the "care and conservation of all animals at the zoo. Each and every one of our events and activities support this mission 100%.”

The big cat exhibit expansion will increase the lions’ and tigers’ living space by about 3,000 square feet, and add 27 glass windows at the front of the enclosure, "which will provide the animals with a safer, noise-reduced environment," he said.

“It is going out to architecture, the plans will hopefully start in the next few weeks," zoo director Jamie Huss said. "They have to do all the drawings, measurements, and pricing needs to be approved before the build can start, but if everything is on track, we will break ground this winter.”

Mayor Ron Meer, La Porte County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Jack Arnett, and other city officials were on hand to accept the donation from the East Setauket, New York-based race team.

“I would like to personally thank Billy Mauff and the WHM Race team, this is obviously a very gracious and generous donation being made to the Michigan City Zoo and it is a perfect example of an organization giving back when they are in no way obligated to do so," Meer said.

"If you came down to our boat parade on Saturday evening or our lakefront on Sunday, you saw first-hand how much our community welcomes, supports and truly appreciates the boat teams coming to Michigan City. This donation speaks volumes about Billy Mauff and the entire WHM Race team and I think it expresses how they view our community as more than just a stop on a race schedule,” Meer said.

“We couldn’t be more excited for the zoo and for our community," Arnett said. "This is just one more example of what the Great Lakes Grand Prix and related activities have done for Michigan City. The mayor and all of the city employees are responsible for making this a special place to visit.

"Billy chose Michigan City over many other cities and there is something to be said about that!” Arnett said.

 —From staff reports

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