My attempt to share stories for each letter of the alphabet featuring our life in Austin B.C. (Before Children) 1975-1985. The 70s were a long time ago. 26 stories were a stretch for my brain, so I cheated and left out X and Y, meaning I have FINALLY made it to the letter Z!
The prompt photo features a young couple.
Perhaps they are recently married and have just rented an apartment in a new city where they are looking forward to an exciting new life together.
My husband and I were not really looking for a place to live where there was “never a dull moment,” but it seems we had our share of moments while living at River Hills. There was The Clown Next Door, Breaking and Entering, and the final “moment” for us – the Bats.
But well before the bat incident, there was the guy with the cougar and the chimp and whatever else he had in his apartment.
We already knew about the cougar. My husband had seen it chained up on the ground level patio of an apartment in another part of the complex. There was no fence or any kind of barrier – just a cougar that anyone could walk right up to. Besides the story in the newspaper, the owner of the cougar, Ted Wenk, was interviewed for the local news stations. I distinctly remember an emphasis by the reporters that the thieves should be very careful with the poison darts and consider turning them in.
A similar article with a different family portrait…
Just a few days later, Ted was in the news again.
It is hard to believe that the apartment manager didn’t know there were wild animals about. I mean, my husband saw the cougar when he was just walking around. And imagine the noise made by 40 parrots, a chimpanzee, and a cougar!
We didn’t live close to his apartment, so other than talking about the novelty and idiocy of the situation, we didn’t keep up with the guy – didn’t remember his name, didn’t know anything else about him.
I didn’t find a followup story about lawsuit over the biting chimp, but I found some other information about our former “neighbor.” Turns out, Ted Wenk had quite a story.
We don’t remember anything about a renters’ strike or going without water. I guess the water issue didn’t affect our building. Ted won this case.
About a year later, someone was accused of trying to steal two black leopards from Mr. Wenk.
River Hills Apartments were on streets that intersected Riverside Dr. Sometime before 1980, Mr. Wenk was keeping his animals farther out Riverside Dr. in a less populated area. It seems law enforcement may have been familiar with him, or at least with his animals. Ted denied that the big black cat was one of his.
By 1982, Ted Wenk had moved east of Austin to the town of Bastrop and opened Wild World Animal Park.
A few months later Ted Wenk was featured in a lengthy article about people keeping large cats as pets.
“Oh, they’re as tame as a house cat,” said Ted Wenk, owner of the Wild World of Cats near Bastrop. He owns 28 exotic cats. “But consider they are a 600-pound house cat. You step on its tail and it might disembowel you. They are big and they are mean.”
I seriously don’t understand people.
In early December of 1983, Ted was showing off two extremely rare white tiger cubs born at his zoo.
At the end of December, Ted posed with his children and was the subject of columnist John Kelso. One might conclude that Mr. Wenk didn’t shy away from media attention.
The article included another photo, this time with a python and a baboon.
Remember those rare white tigers cubs? They went missing. Were they sold? Or eaten?
Wow! Another litter of rare white tigers.
Things took a turn for the worse in Ted Wenk’s life. He was arrested on a drug charge … and those expensive white tiger cubs he sold to a zoo in OK turned a darker hue.
The crime committed by Mr. Wenk seems not to have been as serious as first thought, but he believed he must move because he had lost community support for his zoo and he was losing money.
I guess Ted changed his mind about moving. A newspaper article published in 1986 about a veterinarian mentions Ted and his zoo, located between Austin and Bastrop.
And then things really took a turn for the worse. Ted Wenk was reported missing by his 17-year-old son.
Ted Wenk was never found. His zoo closed in disarray.
This isn’t the first time that I started writing a post for this series and chased the story well beyond my little memory. I don’t remember hearing about Ted Wenk’s death, or if I did, making the connection to our shared time at River Hills.
I have to say I am glad to be finished with this series. I tired of writing so many stories in a row based on my own life and not writing about the ancestors – or at least others in the family. But now a few of our stories are documented bits of family lore along side older stories.
I began with the young couple in the prompt photo and I’ll end with a photo of the young couple who were the characters in this series – my husband and me.
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