Springfield, Mo. (KTTS) - After days of anticipation Wednesday night's gala honoring conservationists from across the country, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and the opening of the new Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium did not disappoint.
The night presented invited guests with a mixture of old fishing tales, honored salutes to the work conservationist have done to protect natural resources in the United States and a party atmosphere to celebrate the decades long completion of WOW.
Nearly every corner of the celebrity spectrum was touched during the event. Political remarks from U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, who dove with sharks earlier in the day at the aquarium, were interwoven with jokes from NASCAR legends like Tony Stewart. Zinke also made an offical proclomation in Morris' honor.
On the political side, U.S. Congressman Billy Long was in attendance. He was mistakenly identified by Secretary Zinke as his "favorite Senator from Missouri" at one point during the program. Former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was also spotted in attendance. Noticeably missing was current Missouri Governor Eric Greitens who had previously been listed as attending the event.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill also pre-recorded a message for Johnny Morris that was played.
Despite the local connections, the real political star power came from former President's Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, who both spoke at length about Mr. Morris' dedication to conservation.
Former President Carter donated two prized possessions, a top catch and a lure, to the new facility. Former President Bush jokingly opened his remarks after being introduced by Mr. Morris by saying "that was damn articulate".
He would also go on to joke that while didn't necessarily miss the presidency, one aspect was noticeably gone, "Air Force One...the plane Johnny sent was a little smaller".
A special moment was shared when the 43rd president read a letter from his dad, former President George H.W. Bush to Johnny Morris. The 41st president was not able to attend due to mobilty issues. However, the crowd was treated to a special video in which Morris joined Bush to make the first cemeronial ribbon cut for the new aquarium and museum.
Dozens of friends and conservation leaders then joined the former presidents and Mr. Morris on stage to make the final cut in the ribbon to ring in a new chapter in the history of Wonders of Wildlife.
The night was capped off with nothing short of a parking lot party. Country music legends such as Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Craig Morgan, Easton Corbin, Chris Janson and Tracy Byrd.
The singers played around a campfire on stage, often bouncing stories off one another before performing their song.
Luke Bryan would close out the evening with a performance of his radio hit, "Huntin', Fishin' And Lovin' Every Day", with all the country performers. They brought Mr. Morris and several friends on stage to sing the final chorus and celebrate the night.