The Learning Gardens of Oak Park is delighted to welcome our new Oak Park Arboretum. This “walk out your front door, turn left or right and you are there” Arboretum, is the product of genuine intergovernmental cooperation and public-private partnerships. 

This letter shares both our thanks to all who are making this happen and the interesting back-story, served with a dash of incredible serendipity.

About a year ago, our director is having coffee at The Buzz with Oak Park resident Laurie Casey, a former writer/publicist for the Morton Arboretum. While he is explaining the tree component of the Learning Gardens concept, she very casually says, “There’s a town in Ohio that just became an arboretum.” 

“You mean the town itself? The whole town?” he asks. 

“Yes.” But she doesn’t know the name.

One hour and a Google search later, “town in Ohio that became an arboretum” had a name: Bexley (a near north suburb of Columbus). It was certified through arbnet at the Morton Arboretum. We Googled arbnet.org, downloaded the application form, and two Learning Garden board members, Dan Krug (Care of Trees) and Gordon Waldron (local attorney and former forestry commission member) filled out as much as they could on their own. They brought it to our new village forester, Rob Sproule, who was very receptive.

About the same time, Wednesday Journal ran an article on our dying ash trees and featured Kathryn Jonas, a local arborist. Our director called, met with her, and she shared her desire to reconstitute the forestry commission. After he explained the much bigger possibility of an arboretum, she worked to organize a meeting at the offices of Carol Yetkin, a local landscape architect, and brought Village Trustee Bob Tucker into the conversation.

Finally, the Learning Gardens contacted Jan Arnold and Mike Grandy at the Park District of Oak Park with the preliminary application form we prepared for the village. They enthusiastically embraced the concept, worked with the village, and here we are — front-page story [Will Oak Park be declared an arboretum? News, April 8].

Too often the term, “It takes a Village,” glosses over the fact that what it really takes are people. People who get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home tired, play with the kids, go to bed, and start all over again. And every once in a while they coalesce around a shared vision. And a village is better for it. These are the people who truly deserve Oak Park’s thanks for making it all happen. Thank you. Each and all of you.

The Learning Gardens is now working on the next phase of our efforts — enlisting and linking the hundreds of beautiful front yard gardens scattered on public and private, residential and commercial properties from Austin to Harlem, from Roosevelt to North Avenue into one giant — walkable — and free Botanic Garden. 

Taking Oak Park beyond simply architecture. The most beautiful town in America.

Sandy Hess is president and Bill Sieck is the executive director of the Learning Gardens of Oak Park.

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