Editor's Note: the photo accompanying this story is courtesy of www.johncenti.com.
SINCLAIRVILLE - Even a wolf at JNK's Call of the Wild Sanctuary seemed saddened at the loss of Ken Wisniewski, as the wolf whimpered and begged for attention.
"You miss Dad, I know. We all do," Scott Wisniewski, Ken's son, whispered as he scratched the wolf's head.
Ken Wisniewski observes a lion at JNK’s Call of the Wild Sanctuary in Sinclairville.
Photo courtesy of www.johncenti.com
Ken, the co-founder of JNK, was deeply loved and will be missed by all of his friends and family, including his animals.
Ken died at UPMC Hamot on Oct. 21, after an unexpected ATV accident earlier that night. He leaves behind his wife, Jackie, and two children, Kristy and Scott.
Ken worked for Gemcor for 25 years, traveling for the business to Ireland, Russia, Japan and other countries. After Gemcor's bankruptcy in 2008, he took the position of mechanical supervisor for Midway State Park.
In 2010, an accident during the takedown of a ride at Midway left Ken disabled. A head-on collision in 2011 on Route 394 in Randolph left Ken further disabled, breaking his upper neck.
Because of injuries from the accidents, Ken was prone to getting lightheaded, passing out and had difficulty turning his head. He was also taking prescribed doses of pain medication daily.
Jackie believes these factors may have contributed to the accident the night of his death.
The night of the ATV accident, Ken was making repairs around the sanctuary. While traveling at a slow rate of speed on a slight grade alongside the sanctuary's property fence, Ken lost control of the ATV, which rolled over, throwing him from the machine and onto the road, according to his wife.
Jackie heard the accident and upon reaching Ken, performed CPR and attempted to keep Ken warm. He briefly regained consciousness as a result of Jackie's care and was later flown to UPMC Hamot for emergency care.
After doctors at Hamot decided that Ken's injuries would claim his life, four or five of his organs were donated to individuals across the country.
"It's what he would have wanted, it's how he lived his life," Jackie said.
Ken and Jackie had known each other since she was 13 and she now is learning to cope without him.
"He was always extremely respectful, my whole family loved him," Jackie said. "We never went to bed mad at each other."
JNK's Call of the Wild Sanctuary is the only recognized "true" sanctuary in the state, as defined by New York state and USDA regulations, according to Jackie. A Walt Disney's manager even owns a tiger that is housed at JNK. At one point, the USDA used recommendations from JNK's feeding programs to educate other sanctuaries and exotic animal owners on proper animal nutrition.
"Our animals here are extremely well taken care of. The animals have serenity here," Jackie said.
She wants to keep the sanctuary open because she and Ken were so passionate about the sanctuary together and she believes the animals will not tolerate change positively; if they needed to be moved to another home, the animals would be out of their element and possibly behave erratically.
Among the exotic and wild animals in the sanctuary, there have been lions, tigers, bears, wolves, foxes and leopards.
Some notable animals currently at the sanctuary include a black bear which was saved from a canned hunt, tigers from Puerto Rico that were used in photo shoots, and a fox initially purchased as a pet from Ohio. Many animals brought to JNK were rescued as a result of tips provided by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Unlike most zoos, sanctuaries like JNK can accept animals with unknown genetic backgrounds, often saving the lives of animals that would otherwise require being put down.
JNK is now run as a nonprofit organization, entirely dependent on donations to stay afloat. Ken and Jackie decided to run the sanctuary as a nonprofit to lessen the burden of funding it privately - until 2004 JNK was entirely funded out of Ken and Jackie's own pockets.
Many of the daily sanctuary tasks were taken care of by Ken, and now fall on Jackie and her son Scott, who has moved back to Sinclairville from Florida and helps keep the sanctuary running after returning from his day job.
Volunteers are specifically needed this coming winter, when even basic tasks around the sanctuary will be more difficult because of the weather. According to Jackie, "Animals are the heart and volunteers are the soul" of JNK.
Donations in memory of Ken can be sent to the JNK Call of the Wild Sanctuary's Business Office, 2230 Millcreek Road, Sinclairville, NY 14782. Please direct any questions regarding the sanctuary or volunteering to 499-9902.