By Marty Farmer
Without Elsie Jacobsen, there would be no Oak Park Conservatory. In recognition of her "Save the Garfield Conservatory" drive in 1970 after the facility had fallen into disrepair during the 1960s, the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory and the Park District of Oak Park announced the creation of the Elsie Jacobsen Discovery Garden, honoring the memory of one of Oak Park's all-time champions of civic pride.
"Without Ms. Jacobsen's determination to save the conservatory from becoming a parking lot, this local treasure would not exist today," said Beth Cheng, executive director of Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory. "From the stories I have heard, it was not just her personal determination but also her ability to draw in others to work together toward a common goal that made her such a force within the community."
The garden, which runs along East Avenue, will offer a space inviting both children and adults to explore and interact with nature. Planned features of the garden include walking paths adorned with plants and natural materials, a water feature with pump traveling the length of the garden, and ample seating to relax and soak in the beauty of the garden, which will display many plant varieties native to northern Illinois.
"This garden is a chance to make the most of every bit of green space in Oak Park, and to provide a unique opportunity to instill a love of nature through active engagement with plants," Cheng said. "The vision behind the discovery garden is to create a space that encourages visitors to really get to know plants through sensory exploration."
The garden, designed by the landscape architecture firm Altamanu, will be completed in the summer of 2015. It's being funded via a donation from the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory, which has established a fundraising goal of $200,000 for the project. According to Cheng, the capital campaign has already reached 75 percent of the fundraising goal.
"The Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory has been a gracious partner of the park district's for many years," said Jessica Bullock, park board president, in a statement. "Their generosity, volunteer spirit, and dedication to the Oak Park Conservatory make Oak Park a more beautiful place to live."
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