Photo: John Vavrek

Fill Those Tanks!

The Jewish News
Alan Muskovitz

Alan Muskovitz

Memorial yoga event and fundraiser to aid Belle Isle Aquarium.

What if I told you nearly the same amount of money originally earmarked 120 years ago by the Michigan Legislature to build the Belle Isle Aquarium — $150,000 — is all that’s needed to complete the full restoration of the remaining 10 of 56 tanks of this jewel of Detroit architecture?

Belle Isle Aquarium. Photo by John Vavrek
Photo by John Vavrek

A “fish tale,” you’d say? No, the aquarium is that close to “fin”-ishing the job, pun obviously intended.

In 1899, prominent Detroit Jewish attorney and Michigan State Rep. David E. Heinemann successfully sponsored the bill that generated the funds to build the aquarium. In 1904, renowned Jewish architect Albert Kahn designed the iconic structure. In 2005, due to limited financial resources, the city of Detroit closed the aquarium for the first time in 106 years.

During the seven years it lay dormant, several groups, including the Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium, formed the Belle Isle Conservancy. In 2012, after working tirelessly together to save the treasured landmark, the Conservancy reopened the facility to the public with a limited number of tanks operational.

To that end, the 5th Annual Aaron Fenton Memorial Yoga Event and Fundraiser will once again raise awareness and funds on Saturday, Aug. 25, on the grounds of the Conservatory Gardens on Belle Isle.

The event is organized by parents Trayce and Randy Fenton of Bloomfield Village. Katy Fenton, who lives and works in Birmingham and teaches yoga at the Center for Yoga, will be leading the yoga class in memory of their son Aaron, who passed away at age 35 in 2013.

Trayce and Randy Fenton Photo by Belle Isle Conservancy
Trayce and Randy Fenton
Photo by Belle Isle Conservancy

“Aaron was a yoga instructor and artist who loved and had lived in Detroit,” Randy says. It was a visit to the aquarium the year following his son’s passing when he recognized the potential healing power of the historic site.

Aaron Fenton Photo by Laurie Tennent
Aaron Fenton
Photo by Laurie Tennent

At that time, the building’s skylights, among other areas of the structure, were in disrepair. The symbolism was not lost on Randy. “Helping to restore the aquarium, a piece of art itself, would suit Aaron’s values perfectly, honor his legacy and bring light back into our lives.”

Thanks to dollars raised at the 2016/2017 events, two tanks have already been restored and organizers feel they’re on target to raise enough funds to support two more this year. But, if the legion of supporters and dedicated volunteers have their way, 2018 will be the year all the tanks will be fully functioning.

“We’re so close to finishing this project,” Trayce says, “that we’re hoping our event will inspire others in the greater community to chip-in collectively to raise the necessary funds to get us across the finish line. The aquarium, after all, does belong to the community.” Individuals and groups who raise enough funds for a tank may be eligible for recognition or naming rights.

The Fentons felt helping to restore the aquarium skylights would fit with their late son’s values and “bring light back into our lives.” Photo by Lori FERET
The Fentons felt helping to restore the aquarium skylights would fit with their late son’s values and “bring light back into our lives.”
Photo by Lori FERET

Engraved on the front facade of the aquarium are the Latin words Speramus meliora; resurgent cineribus, meaning “We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes.” The motto, born out of a devastating fire in Detroit in 1805, inspired the Ford Motor Company to recently project those timeless words in lights onto another iconic Detroit building when, with great fanfare, the automaker announced to a thankful city they had acquired the beloved Michigan Central Station. It’s all part of a massive corporate and cultural infusion in Detroit by Ford.

The Belle Isle Aquarium and the train station, fewer than nine miles apart, are now bookends to the rejuvenation of the heart of our city that is finally experiencing a true renaissance. Two artistic treasures both destined to have a date with the wrecking ball now stand as a testament to the city’s resilience.

The aquarium is experiencing record attendance. According to a recent progress report, when the aquarium reopened in 2012, there were months where a peak of 3,000 visitors passed through its doors. In July 2017, more than 30,000 guests walked among the restored glistening emerald glass-tiled walls of the only combined aquarium and conservancy in the country. “It’s irreplaceable; never to be duplicated,” Randy says.

Pay a visit to the Belle Isle Aquarium and see firsthand how you can help restore the aquarium’s treasured past by supporting its future. Moe will thank you for it. Who’s Moe? He was the aquarium’s 80-year old koi fish who passed away last year. Moe and the Belle Isle Aquarium — two indestructible forces that personify the spirit of Detroit; a city that bends but never breaks. Let’s fill the tanks in memory of Moe!

A previous yoga fundraising event on Belle Isle near the aquarium and conservatory. Photo by Leon Halip
A previous yoga fundraising event on Belle Isle near the aquarium and conservatory.
Photo by Leon Halip


The 5th Annual Aaron Fenton Memorial Yoga Event will be held Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory Gardens adjacent to the aquarium on Belle Isle. Check-in starts at 8:30 a.m., with the yoga practice set from 9-10 a.m. Cost is $40 per person. Proceeds will help restore the remaining 10 tanks at the aquarium. For tickets and donations, go to For sponsorship opportunities, contact Katy Wyerman at, (313) 331-7019 or Shawna Mitchell at (313) 331-7052.

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