Among the many reasons Milo and Abby DeVries support the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Foundation, one stands out.
“It helps create smiles,” Milo said. “That’s the important thing.”
As he spoke, swans drifted past on a pond outside the Gardens’ Grand Room. In a sense, the swans and other waterfowl have found a welcome home thanks in part to the generosity of the DeVries’s. In 2013, the couple made a generous donation to the Foundation, earmarking it to maintain waterfowl habitat.
“There are so many neat things in that pond out there,” Milo said. “It’s exciting to see youngsters in particular walk the path, and someone will point and say, ‘look at that.’”
In recognition of their support, Milo and Abby DeVries and three other couples and individuals became new members of the Foundation’s Perennial Society at the annual recognition dinner on June 25, 2014. The Perennial Society’s 76 members were recognized for donating or including bequests of $10,000 or more in their estate plans for the Foundation. The 26 Bonsai Society members were honored for donations or bequests of $100,000 or more.
Foundation President John Bouwer called the Gardens “a magical place,” and assured the Perennial and Bonsai Society members that their support makes a real difference.
“Both Meijer Gardens and the Foundation are successful because of you,” he told the members.
From its humble beginnings, the Foundation has grown to a total endowment of more than $100 million, providing 23 percent of the operating costs of the Gardens, Bouwer said.
“You have been pioneers in establishing the Foundation,” he said.
Long-time Perennial Society members John and Gwen Hibbard said that, because of their interest in sculpture, they are particularly drawn to the Garden’s integration of plants and art. “What more could you want?” Gwen asked.
Because the endowment is managed as a perpetual fund, with only a portion of the earnings going to support the Gardens, Foundation Executive Director Susanne Veeneman was able to assure the supporters that “your gifts, which are your legacy, will grow and bloom forever.”
For Jon Ferguson, one of the new Perennial Society members, that was a major reason he decided to make a donation in memory of his wife, Sallie, who died in September 2013. He asked that the money be placed in a restricted fund to bring disadvantaged children to the Gardens.
“I think she would be proud of that,” he said. “We can come here, and Sallie will always be honored in perpetuity. That’s what I like about it, that it’s in perpetuity. It’s great to be a part of it.”
Kathleen and David Ray also became new members of the Perennial Society. “It’s indeed an honor and a pleasure to be a part of something that will go on long after we’re gone,” said Kathleen, whose uncle, Thomas Cornell, also is a Perennial Society member.
Fred Bogaert, the fourth new Perennial Society member, credited the late Fred Meijer and his wife, Lena, with inspiring him to support the Gardens through the Foundation. “I appreciate what Fred and Lena have done for this community,” he said.
David Hooker, Meijer Gardens' president and chief executive officer, echoed that sentiment. “Lena, you serve as an inspiration to us all,” he said. “It’s amazing what you’ve done here.”
“I want to thank everybody here for what you do,” he said, adding that support from the Perennial and Bonsai Society members is “absolutely essential” to the Gardens.
The coming year will be especially busy at the Gardens, Hooker said, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015 and observes the opening of the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden in June of that year.
David Dvorak, a long-time supporter attending his first awards dinner, said it’s hard to believe the Gardens have been around for nearly two decades.
“I was here for the opening,” he said, “and I’ve just been in love with it ever since.”