Winter at the Garden is very special. The snow is clean and perfect, bright white at the height of the day, turning to darkening shades of blue and gray and then orange as the sun sets. There is a wonderful sense of quiet. Walking around the Garden on these cold days, making first boot tracks in the snow, I feel a wonderful sense of peace — the Garden is one of the few places where I can experience silence and solitude. Here, I can consider what’s important in life.
This year those feelings seem even more profound. We mourn for those friends and family members we have lost, or hold in our thoughts others who are grieving or facing challenges. We worry about our disturbing financial situation — all the more worrisome because it doesn’t resemble the downturns of the recent past. We consider the mistakes — horrible mistakes — of people we formerly held in high esteem. And we reflect — sometimes with feelings of hopelessness — on the awesome destruction of our natural environment.
Like perhaps you do, I spend a lot of time thinking about this — how the changing world impacts my own life, especially as I try to provide a healthy, warm, and secure home for my family. I find, however, that when I start along these lines of thought, I always come back to all of the good things about the Chicago Botanic Garden, and am comforted.
These are extraordinary times in our lives but this is a very special place of which to be part.
The Garden’s beauty and peacefulness, its commitment to meaningful science and education, and most of all, its remarkable people — staff, volunteers, board, visitors, donors, and elected officials — truly provide hope for the future.
With this letter, I’d like to share with you some updates on what is going on at the Garden for 2009 and share a few special anecdotes — and voices — that underscore the meaningful work we do.
The Garden committed some years ago to eliminating all of the invasive plants from our campus. Jim Steffen, the Garden’s native areas manager, curates and nurtures our 100-acre Mary Mix McDonald Woods with a remarkably devoted cadre of volunteers. They have been working quietly since the late 1980s to remove the buckthorn and garlic mustard from the Woods. Last winter, his team removed three and a half acres of invasive species to the west of the entry gates, and just last month, two acres from the science campus. That left 14 acres of buckthorn and honeysuckle — in a wetland area at the southeast corner of the Garden, where most people would never think to go. Well, there is one devoted birder who has been going to this 14-acre spot for 50 years — long before the Garden was founded — to watch migrating birds. She celebrates her 80th birthday on Valentine’s Day, and her husband will give her a very special birthday present…a makeover of her Chicago Botanic Garden sanctuary. He committed to a major gift to the Garden to clear the area and plant native plant species that will heal the soil and help the birds of which she is so fond. We will name it for her so her family can share her passion for nature — always. This interest in giving gifts to the Garden in tribute to loved ones is so powerful and that connection is growing — in 2008 we saw a 58 percent increase in people making annual fund gifts in tribute to friends and relatives. This shows the profound attachment people have for the Garden.
Another example of a person recognizing the accomplishments and tremendous future of the Chicago Botanic Garden is Greg Mueller, the new vice president of science and academic programs. He wanted to participate in the important, high-impact plant biology the Garden is doing, and believed in our scientific staff and leadership enough to leave a tenured position at The Field Museum. He will lead our science and university programs, mature and define our scope and vision, and move his team into the new Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center this fall. Greg, a world-renowned mycologist (expert in fungi), sees in the Garden a true opportunity to make a difference. Please click here to learn more detailed information and view the video link.
I’m going to let my third example express herself in her own words. Joan Hopkins is one of the original Windy City Harvest apprentices — now an employee of the Chicago Botanic Garden. To watch this beautiful two-minute video, please click here. Windy City Harvest, a remarkable jobs training program on the west side of Chicago, is progressing nicely. Our partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago and the Garfield Park Conservatory — part of the Chicago Park District — continues to grow. In January the next class of apprentices started — this time as part of an official certificate-granting joint program of the City Colleges and the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Every person I meet uses the same word when they describe the Garden: quality. A deep commitment to quality runs throughout everything we do. The staff and volunteers are committed to it and as a President’s Circle member, you help us maintain it. The visitors now expect and are inspired by it. Setting a high bar is very much a part of the legacy of my predecessor, Barbara Carr. I strive to live up to that.
For 2009 our focus will be on accomplishing three goals:
1. Living within our means…both financially and with respect to conserving natural resources for the future
2. Ensuring the high quality of all Garden operations, amenities, and programs, including an upgrade to the Garden Café
3. Planning for the future by building a new 10-year strategic plan
I look forward to updating you on our progress during the months ahead.
I am so grateful for your support of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Thank you so very much. Please know I would love to hear from you at any time with your thoughts. Every day, it is an honor and privilege to serve the Chicago Botanic Garden.