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Beloved polar bear's life celebrated at Lake Superior Zoo

There were eight violinists, dozens of red balloons and a cake made out of ice, fruit and fish parts. Hundreds of people turned up for Bubba the bear's celebration of life Sunday afternoon at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth. Zoo staff and volunte...

There were eight violinists, dozens of red balloons and a cake made out of ice, fruit and fish parts.

Hundreds of people turned up for Bubba the bear's celebration of life Sunday afternoon at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth.

Zoo staff and volunteers, longtime admirers and lots of children ate cookies, signed a giant goodbye card and recalled memories of the big polar bear that died of natural causes last month.

Volunteers even passed out free slices of watermelon -- Bubba's favorite treat.

"We're going to miss that big boy,'' said Joyce Blodgett, a zoo volunteer called a docent.

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Stacey Dimberio of Duluth and her 4-year-old daughter Cursta wanted to be at the zoo Sunday to remember Bubba and see Berlin, Bubba's partner bear. They purchased a signed print of a painting of Bubba by local artist Pam Dull.

Part of the proceeds of the print sales will go to help refurbish Berlin's exhibit.

"We always came to the polar bears first. And if the bears didn't come out, it just wasn't the same,'' Stacey said of trips to the zoo with her family. "We're going to hang this [print of Bubba] up as a tribute.''

Perhaps no one knew Bubba as well as Dick Simmons, a former zoo docent who now lives at St. Eligius Health Center, just down the road from the zoo. Simmons was one of the first people to interact regularly with the bears when they arrived at the zoo, and he worked with Bubba and Berlin nearly every day for 12 years.

"He was a character. I'm going to miss him,'' Simmons said, adding that news of the bear's death "hit me pretty hard.''

Bubba was born Nov. 4 1989, at Utah's Hogle Zoo. He and Berlin were purchased for $25,000 in 1995 for the Duluth zoo's then-brand-new Polar Shores exhibit.

Bubba died Aug. 8, apparently of a liver disease, according to preliminary results of a necropsy at the University of Minnesota's School of Veterinary Medicine.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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