Kalamazoo, MI, USA — Air Zoo Board of Directors Chairman Pete Parish has announced that Bob Ellis, Air Zoo president and CEO, will retire after 35 years of service to the museum. The Air Zoo Board of Directors has named Troy A. Thrash as the museum’s new president and CEO, effective at the end of January.
Ellis began his career with the Air Zoo in 1977. He became the general manager of the museum and was later named executive director, a position he held until 2010, when he was named president and CEO. Ellis led the museum through numerous expansions, including the new 120,000-square-foot building, which opened in 2004. The new building featured interactive exhibits and education programs designed for adults and students of all ages. It also included several nonmilitary aircraft, the Midwest’s first 4-D theater, a simulated flight to the International Space Station, the Montgolfier Balloon Race, full-motion flight simulators and an SR-71B Blackbird.
In 2011, the Air Zoo expanded yet again, thanks to Ellis’ continued quest to provide the best possible experience to every guest. The 50,000-square-foot East Wing expansion made room for the new Space: Dare to Dream exhibit, an exhibit about the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a World War II naval aviation gallery, a climate-controlled archive and a library.
“It has been my good fortune to witness the Air Zoo become one of the nation’s most unique aviation museums with attractions designed for both families and aviation enthusiasts,” said Ellis. “Now, after 35 years, it is time to hand over the reins to Troy, who is well-positioned to take the museum to the next level.”
Thrash, 42, comes to the Air Zoo with a strong industry background in science, technology, engineering and education. He currently serves as the executive director and CEO of the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, Pa. Prior to that, he was the executive director of the National Aerospace Development Center in Alpharetta, Ga., and a significant contributor to several other organizations focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development, including SkillsUSA, the Federation of Galaxy Explorers, the Civil Air Patrol, and FIRST Robotics, for which he currently volunteers as an emcee for regional and international competitions.
“After an extensive nationwide search, we are excited to have found Troy, whose experiences and background coincide with the Air Zoo’s unique vision of educating and inspiring visitors from all over the world,” said Parish. “Special thanks are due to Alan Wright, search committee chair, and search committee members Jon Bowers, Janice Brown, and Randy Eberts for undertaking this project.”
Thrash gained experience in the aerospace industry as a senior aerospace engineer for Analytical Graphics, Inc. in Malvern, Pa., where he served as the lead technical marketer, systems engineer and programmer of the world’s leading space analysis software. He joined Futron Corporation, a leading aerospace consulting firm in Bethesda, Md., as a senior program manager, and later became division director of Space and Telecommunications. In those roles, Thrash managed several large-scale projects for clients including the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, International Launch Services, the U.S. Strategic Command and the National Strategic Space Office.
“The growth of the Air Zoo and its increasing educational impacts on a regional scale is quite a remarkable story,” said Thrash. “I am honored to be selected to build upon this strong foundation, working with partners in all sectors to realize the board’s vision of becoming the most influential air and space experience in the world. I look forward to every moment spent with the Air Zoo team igniting minds of all ages through the wonder of flight.”
Thrash earned his bachelor’s degree in astronomy and astrophysics from Villanova University. He currently serves on the Board of the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre and the local Workforce Investment Board Youth Council. He resides in Macungie, Pa., with his wife, Jody, and their four children: Jada, Gavin, Brynnica and Dawson.
For more information about the Air Zoo, please visit www.airzoo.org
The Air Zoo is a nonprofit organization located at 6151 Portage Rd. in Portage, Mich. It is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and offers a restaurant, gift shop, and banquet facilities. General admission is $10 per person. Unlimited rides and attractions may be purchased with an Ultimate Ace Wristband Package ($16.50), which includes general admission, or tickets can be purchased individually for rides. Children who are 4 years old or younger are free.