Behind some of Central Ohio’s most powerful men are… nobody. Because their wives are most certainly not behind them, but beside them. Meet the personalities beneath the personas of four of the city’s most notable pairs.
Soon after Muskingum College sweethearts Jack Hanna (a football player) and Suzi Egli (a cheerleader) married, the animal lovers opened a pet shop in Tennessee. Next, they headed to Florida, where Jack ran a zoo. And in 1978, the couple moved to Columbus—then spent the better part of their lives transforming a dying zoo into what has been named the country’s best. (Aside from assisting Jack with zoo causes, Suzi also worked as a preschool teacher and at a cultural center, among other jobs.)
Now Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Jack, 66, travels the world with Suzi, 65, producing his national animal-adventure TV shows, camping, hiking and helping people in Rwanda (where they have one of their three homes; the other two are in Powell and Montana). They have three grown daughters and give to myriad causes, including The James, Nationwide Children’s and St. Jude’s, where their youngest once stayed.
On falling in love
Suzi: He was my best friend in college. Jack: I weighed 200 pounds. I had big glasses. Suzi: Jack had this magnanimous personality. Everybody loved hanging around with him.
On marrying 45 years ago
Suzi: We danced to Born Free. We were just in college. We had no idea where our life was going to go.
On his most romantic gesture
Jack: There’s so many I can’t think of it! [laughing] Suzi: As a young girl, when you’re dreaming about your engagement… I pictured romance in getting engaged. I said to him, the one thing I would love more than anything is it to be a surprise. I had been refereeing a volleyball game, and I was all sweaty, and Jack came running in and said, “You won’t believe it—somebody hit my car!” (We went outside) and he said, “Here,” and he handed me the ring. It was certainly a surprise! [laughing] Twenty years later, Jack came in and said, “You won’t believe it—somebody hit my car!” And I walked outside and said, “It looks fine.” And he said, “No—the other side.” And there was a box with my diamond necklace.
On family time
Suzi: He’s a workaholic, and it really did take that. (So) every Sunday, we’d go to church, go to KFC, have our picnic with the kids, and go to the zoo and pick up trash. So that was our big deal—riding around the zoo. The kids remember that, because the important thing was, we were together.
On why they have a home in Rwanda, where the Hannas and the zoo helped fund an orphanage
Suzi: We love seeing the mountain gorillas. Jack: We built the home to help the country, not just for us. The president of Rwanda is a great friend of ours. It’s the safest, most democratic place in Africa.
On where they would choose to take a weeklong trip for pleasure
Suzi: New Zealand. Jack: I love crystal blue water. I love white sandy beaches. I hate to copy her, but yes—New Zealand. Oh—I know where I want to go back to, too: Tasmania. It is spectacular.