By C.J. Hirschfield

We export fun

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email that began “Greetings from Mississippi.” The writer, Rick Taylor — whom I don’t know — introduced himself as the executive director of the Hattiesburg Zoo, which I’ve never visited.

But this wasn’t spam. In fact, it was the sincerest form of flattery.

It turns out the Hattiesburg Zoo is designing a new Education/Discovery Center, which will have a steampunk theme, and be centered on a Galapagos tortoise exhibit. Near this space is an area that features ant sculptures, but still has room to grow.

To design the center, Rick Taylor had hired an unusual architecture design-build firm in West Oakland, 2,218 miles from Hattiesburg, with the unusual name, “Because We Can.” BWC is led by husband-and-wife team Jeffrey McGrew, a licensed architect, and Jillian Northrup, who specializes in graphics, design and photography.

Together they create magic in their robot-powered fabrication shop, making what they design. “We are here to make the world a more interesting place,” their website declares.

When Jeffrey and Jillian began thinking about the ant-sculpture area at the Hattiesburg Zoo, they immediately thought of Children’s Fairyland – more specifically, of our very popular Jack and Jill Hill, where kids slide and roll down without benefit of motors or gadgets.

Jeffrey and Jillian don’t have children, but they’ve been to Fairyland with their blacksmith friend John and his daughter Zolie-May. When they visited, they couldn’t help but notice that “kids absolutely adore” our hill, which we introduced a little over a year ago.

Jeffrey and Jillian have also attended our Gala fundraising event, dressed as “evil Fairyland people.”

And that’s how Jeffrey and Jillian came to pitch the idea of an “ant hill” for the Hattiesburg Zoo. Rick Taylor, who’d never seen our hill, loved the idea.

Rick is planning on visiting us in late summer or early fall, and wants his hill completed by April 2014. He told me he’s watched the YouTube videos of our hill, and says he knows that the children of Hattiesburg are going to love a sliding hill as much as kids in Oakland do.

It’s beautifully ironic that it took a stranger from Mississippi to introduce me to the great local talents at “Because We Can.” Check out their website ( to see the extraordinary work of this company that’s dedicated to the proposition – “great people deserve great things.”

And I say that little people deserve great things, too. And it’s going to happen – in Hattiesburg!

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.

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