Helping Tarzan find a home

Project-based learning at Black Pine sparks passion, volunteerism

Their coursework is complete, but for three Ivy Tech alumni, there is still work to be done and fun to be had.

In fall 2010, students in the Ivy Tech Community College−Northeast Fabrication I course took on a project at the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion, Ind., to build a large outdoor enclosure for a chimpanzee named Tarzan.

Tarzan, like many of the animals at Black Pine, has led a tough life. After being orphaned at a young age, he was sold to become a performer and had most of his teeth pulled out as a safety precaution. Tarzan and Coby, another male chimp, were given a home at Black Pine in 1995, but in 2010, Coby passed away, leaving Tarzan as the lone chimpanzee at the facility.

Don Conkle, Mike Blombach and Terry Petrosky participated in building the outdoor enclosure for Tarzan and genuinely enjoyed the experience, so much so, that they continued working at Black Pine.

“When the park reached out to Ivy Tech in the spring with a new project that would provide improvements for Tarzan’s cage, the three of us quickly said ‘yes,’” Conkle said.

They spent the next semester building an exterior run that joins the indoor cage with the outdoor cage, as part of their Fabrication II coursework.

When their welding classes were over in the summer of 2011, there was no more credit to be earned, but that didn’t stop Conkle, Blombach or Petrosky.

Every Wednesday morning, these three head to Albion to donate a few hours of their time at Black Pine. Conkle and Blombach are both retired, while Petrosky works the second shift at his job. They continue to volunteer, simply because they enjoy it.

“It’s fun,” Blombach said. “We have a good time working together.”

They chuckled as they shared a story about a time when construction did not go as planned. In this instance, they had completed building an overhead with sliding doors and a panel, only to find that when they went to install it, it was 1/8 inch too long. It took a large jack to push the cages apart, but in the end, everything was copasetic.

“Sometimes those things happen,” Conkle said. “That’s part of it, any time you build something.”

According to Conkle, he and Blombach spend a large amount of time in the engineering process, to try to avoid these types of issues and do everything the best way possible.

“It’s fun to design it, build it and see it work,” Blombach said. “The welding classes we have taken have definitely helped us do this, and the input

from (Ivy Tech–Northeast welding instructor) John (Christman) has been helpful as well.”

Even after Tarzan’s home is complete, the three do not plan to be finished at Black Pine.

“They have a book of projects. I’m sure they’ll have something else for us,” Petrosky said. “I’m not about to stop.”

Thus far, Conkle, Blombach and Petrosky have built the exterior run and an overhead, along with sliding doors for Tarzan’s enclosure. They are now working on the construction of a wall that will allow for the enclosure to be divided into four sections.

According to Lori Gagen, executive director of the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, the goal of this most recent construction project with Tarzan’s house is to ultimately facilitate the adoption of one or two more chimpanzees from the private sector, providing Tarzan with some companions.

“Tarzan’s welfare and happiness are immensely important to us, so being able to make these very big improvements to his house is just incredible,” Gagen said. “We simply couldn’t do this without those who have donated so much time and talent from Ivy Tech.  We cannot say ‘thank you’ nearly enough.” 

Tarzan is a rescue chimpanzee who resides at the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion, Ind.

Mike Blombach and Terry Petrosky take a break from working on Tarzan’s enclosure.

Don Conkle, Terry Petrosky and Mike Blombach gather under the run they built.