Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Group visits an old friend

Church home residents check on aquarium donation

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Hilda Kunkel leaned partially out of her wheelchair toward the large round tank and cooed, “Hi, cutey,” as the big white fish she had fed every day for several years cruised past the glass.

        Ms. Kunkel, 84, was part of a group from the Episcopal Church Home in Louisville that traveled to the Newport Aquarium Tuesday to watch the giant gourami, a fish native to Southeast Asia, that the home donated to the aquarium two months ago.

        “I fed him almost every day,” the white-haired octogenarian said with a big smile as she watched the 15-pound fish swim around in his new, larger home.

        “He loves cucumbers,” she said. “I would save the pieces of cucumber out of my salad and feed him. He was just a dandy for us (at the home).”

        Meleesa Oldham, director of program services at the home, said Ms. Kunkel usually wore a blue smock when she fed the fish. “He got so he would start swimming around and coming to the top of the tank when he saw that blue,” she said. “He knew he was going to get some cucumber.”

        Ms. Oldham said when the fish arrived at the home and was placed in a 100-gallon aquarium, he was about 8 inches long. In six years he has grown to nearly 2 feet, entirely too large for the home's tank.

        “I don't think I've ever seen a giant gourami this big,” said aquarium assistant aquatics curator Rich Terrell, who invited the home's residents to visit and played host while they toured the facility. “He does like cucumber, but now we have him eating sweet potato and grapes.”

        The big fish now swims in a 700-gallon acrylic walk-around tank that is the center of the World Rivers gallery, the first exhibit visitors see as they start their walk through the aquarium.


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