More than 3,000 people jammed into the big tent next to Bass Pro Shops flagship location in Springfield Wednesday night for a gala grand opening of the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium.
Bass Pro founder and CEO Johnny Morris’ vision for a world-class conservation-focused venue was nine years in the making. There were numerous appearances by celebrities and politicians, including a tribute to Morris from Kevin Costner.
“Somehow Johnny has managed to touch us all,” Costner said. “Your friendship is legendary, but it’s your sense of detail, the love of the land and the animals that inhabit it that are forever on display for all of us.”
The number of stars and dignitaries on hand for the Wednesday event was astonishing.
Governor Eric Greitens was held up in the St. Louis area because of unrest following a controversial court decision. But local Congressman Billy Long of the 7th District was a special guest.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush offered representation from both parties to have occupied the oval office. The two men were honorary Co-Chairmen and Featured Guest. The gathering’s chief honoree, Former President George H.W. Bus, is suffering from health issues and was unable to attend.
Country music legends appearing included Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Craig Morgan, Easton Corbin, Chris Janson and Tracy Byrd.
The list of auto racing legends was dominated by NASCAR stars, but also included power broker Chip Ganassi, who fields teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar.
The Fishing Legends camp was fronted by familiar names – Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston – but included at least 20 additional members. And there were no fewer than 10 Hunting Legends.
As well, actor Mark Wahlberg was a strong presence, offering a celebrity dive into one of the tanks at the aquarium.
Bass Pro CEO Johnny Morris addressed the audience where, among other things, he said outdoor enthusiasm has a long lineage in the U.S.
“What tonight is all about is celebrating the sportsmen and women in this country,” said Morris. “The anglers and the hunters, who really from the time of those who came before us, the Native Americans, and the time of Roosevelt and Audubon, and to today, the impact they’ve had not just for hunting and fishing, but for all our nature.”
The $290 million, 350,000-square-foot Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium aquarium and museum officially opens to the public tomorrow Friday.