SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Longtime Sioux Falls veterinarian Dr. Dayton Williams died over the weekend after being diagnosed with ALS in 2022. He was 62 years old.

Williams, a native of Madison, South Dakota, had his own practice at All Animal Pet Hospital in Sioux Falls in addition to being the veterinarian with the Great Plains Zoo for 25 years where he was a part of many “firsts” with the animals.

“He was here for the first rhino calf birth, he was here for the first flamingo chick, here for the first squirrel monkey, here for the first red wolf pubs,” zookeeper Kim Miller said Monday. “He was a big part of a lot of our firsts, and he’ll always be a part of our history here.”

Miller started as a bird keeper at the zoo and recalls Williams’ passion for the species.

“One of the first things I learned about him was how much he really loved birds and had a passion for them and that’s not an easy thing. Birds aren’t often people’s favorite animals here when we talked to them, but I could tell he really loved them,” Miller said.

Angie Blommer, cat-bear supervisor at the zoo, recalls Williams’ love of flamingos in particular.

“I know he loves the birds,” Blommer said. “Honestly, you can’t look around here and not see an animal that he enjoyed taking the time to get to know and work with.”

While Williams was a beloved part of the Great Plains Zoo community, most Sioux Falls residents likely knew him from his practice All Animal Pet Hospital.

“You get the impression that if you took your animals to his clinic, you were a part of a family,” Blommer explained. “For a long time when he was still working here you’d here ‘Oh, I go to Doc Williams too. I know he’s your vet but he’s my vet.'”

Williams had retired at All Animal Pet Hospital earlier this month and was joined by friends, family and patients who reminisced on his long career caring for everyday pets and exotic animals, including the first litter of red wolf cubs at the Great Plains Zoo.

“Doc Williams was here… for all of their needs, neonatal checks, vaccines, making sure they were good and healthy. And then that following summer we had our first successful litter of tiger cubs,” Blommer recalled. “He was on deck at all times; any time we had a question he was here.”

Williams not only brought along his knowledge and enthusiasm for all animals, but a love for a certain candy.

“He always came in with a smile on his face and Jolly Ranchers in his pocket,” Miller said.

“The thing that I always got a crack out of was that he always had a great big bag of Jolly Ranchers so even at his going away party, the last day I worked with him, I gave him a great big bag of Jolly Ranchers,” Blommer said.

While Williams hadn’t worked at the zoo in more than a decade, his legacy still lives on through the animals he cared for including two red foxes that reside there.

“Foxy and Roxy, they’re fan favorites,” Blommer said. “Somebody rescued them off the road when mom got hit by a car and took them to Doc Williams. So, this visitor favorite, they’re still over there and they’re alive because of him. And we’ve been able to take care of them since he was able to bottle feed them and bring them back; make sure they were good and healthy… So he has a footprint everywhere around here.”