Throughout his 41-year career, Jack Hanna always has insisted he’ll never leave the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Now, that’s a fact.

The zoo’s director emeritus has become a permanent fixture there – in the form of a life-size statue.

On April 11, zoo employees unveiled the cast in bronze likeness of him and his wife, Suzi Hanna, seated on an 8-foot-long, 600-pound bench. The statue, created to honor the couple’s 40th anniversary with the zoo last year, features fine details right down to his khaki shirt’s buttons and creases and the band around his trademark safari hat.

No portrait of the Hannas would be complete without animals there with them: in this case, a bronze cheetah, penguin and vervet monkey.

“I never expected this in a million years,” Jack said. “I’m so honored.”

Joined by members of the Kvamme family who donated the creation, the Hannas pulled off multicolored tarps to reveal it to the public at the entrance of the zoo’s Heart of Africa region. Suzi was revealed first, and Jack wasted no time. He scurried over and plopped a kiss on her bronze cheek.

“I know that was corny, but I can’t help it,” he said. “This is unbelievable. Sue, that looks just like you.”

Sculptor Alan Cottrill of Zanesville said he spent about a year on the piece. He’s created 350 or so life-size sculptures, including Ohio State University’s Woody Hayes and Jesse Owens and the Thomas Edison statue donated recently to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall to represent Ohio.

Cottrill hopes guests pose with his latest creation for years to come.

“It just screams, ‘Sit down and take a photo,’ and it was meant to,” he told The Columbus Dispatch. “It was a really fun project.”

The statue was commissioned and donated by Megan and Mark Kvamme. Mark is a partner in Columbus-based Drive Capital, a Midwest venture-capital firm. His wife is founder and CEO of FactGem, a data-visualization startup, and chairwoman of Popcorn Sutton Distilling & Avery’s Trail Distilling Co.

The donation is named for the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Hanne Belew. They’ve also named other areas of the zoo for their two oldest children, Gracie Jean, 6, and Magnus, 5.

Megan Kvamme, who attended the April 11 event, said the Columbus Zoo inspired her love of animals as a student at Colonial Hills Elementary School in Worthington, when Jack and his critters visited for programs.

“Without Jack and his amazing wife, Suzi, none of this would be possible,” she said. “Their passion for each other and for this community is why this zoo is what it is today.”

awidmanneese@dispatch.com

@AlissaWidman