Cathryn Hilker was born in 1931 and raised on a farm in Mason, OH. As a child, she fell in love with horses and became an accomplished equestrian. After graduating from University of Cincinnati, Cathryn spent the next few years traveling the world, most importantly Africa where she was captivated by the wild cheetah. Cathryn married Carl “Hege” Hilker at age 38, and son Carl was born the next year. Cathryn’s “second act” as a cat trainer and founder of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador program began shortly after her 40th birthday. Cathryn and her beloved cheetahs, Angel and Sarah, developed many international friends and helped to elevate the reputation of the Cincinnati Zoo to its current rank as the #1 zoo in the United States.
Kathryn (Kathy) Merchant
Pairing the joy of philanthropy with a passion for writing is the recipe for Kathy’s second act as a journalist and author. Following a successful career in the nonprofit sector as a consultant and foundation executive – including CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation – she returned to a long-standing interest in writing and storytelling. In addition to authoring Cathryn Hilker’s biography to benefit the Cincinnati Zoo (2021), she served as managing editor for ArtsWave’s groundbreaking anthology of nearly 200 women who have shaped the community’s cultural vibrancy (“Cincinnati’s Arts and the Power of Her,” 2020). She also writes about travel, wine, and food on her Vino Ventures blog (www.kathymerchant.wine).
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