By Carly Kwiecien
As a retired teacher and the second vice president of the Board of Directors at Friendship Botanic Gardens, Steve Kahn is a seasoned leader in the Michigan City community.
For 33 years, Kahn taught physical education and health at Krueger Middle School. He also coached football to children of different ages for 25 years, spent 15 years coaching basketball and coached his son’s little league baseball for countless seasons.
“I’ve always been around sports,” Kahn said. “For my very first job, I was a summer playground supervisor with the Michigan City Parks and Recreation Department. They used to have summer programs at all the summer playgrounds in town. I helped run the playground and umpire little league baseball. Back then, it took place during the day when the parents were at work, so us playground supervisors ran the leagues.”
In 2008 when he retired from his teaching career, Leslie Samelson, former coworker of Kahn’s at Krueger and Board Member at the Gardens, asked him to begin volunteering his time once a week.
“There were about five or six of us [grounds crew members] back then,” Kahn said. “I started helping because we were losing help. At the time, the Gardens were in need of volunteers that were serious about dedicating their time because it was hanging on by a thread.”
He began by simply cutting the grass, which improved the aesthetic of the Gardens.
“When I was little, I’d drive by this place and see the entrance sign, but I didn’t know exactly what it was,” Kahn said. “Even though I had grown up in Michigan City and had lived here my entire life, I had never come to Friendship Botanic Gardens until I came in on my first Tuesday here to work with the grounds crew.”
After volunteering for four years, Dr. Houck, president emeritus of the Gardens, invited Kahn to be a part of the Board of Directors.
“It was about then that I got my friend John Leinweber involved,” Kahn said. “One thing led to another and he eventually became the new president of the board. Once he got involved, this place started taking a turn for the better. It’s incredible to see the transformation of the Gardens from just a few years ago to what it is now. It’s pretty rewarding to see the changes, and I hope it will continue to grow.”
Kahn, like many others, was unware of the Gardens for a long time, despite living in the area his entire life.
“It’s really a hidden treasure,” Kahn said. “It’s been right in our backyard the entire time we’ve lived here and there are still so many people in Michigan City who have never been here before. My favorite thing about being at the Gardens is seeing people’s reactions once they experience its beauty for the first time.”
Kahn’s favorite corner of the Garden is the Celebration Side. Since the first time he was at the Gardens, he could tell it was a special place, one where he soon found peace and comfort.
“Once I started coming here regularly, I’d grab a golf cart and sit by Lake Lucerne at night to contemplate, take a break and just think,” Kahn said. “I immediately fell in love with the place. It grows on you more the more that you’re here.”
He also loves the Persian Rose Garden because it reminds him of the roses his mother used to grow.
“I like to walk the trails a lot in the fall and spring when the weather is beautiful,” Kahn said. “They’re very unknown and are not traveled often. It’s just a nice place to be.”
When Kahn isn’t at the Gardens, he likes to spend his days surrounded by his family. He has five grandchildren, two of which play tee-ball locally.
“I also have a part time job at my church doing custodial work, helping where I can,” Kahn said.
Golfing is also another hobby of his that he enjoys playing in his free time.
By Carly Kwiecien
Long-time real estate broker and sales enthusiast, Dale Maher, has been involved with Friendship Botanic Gardens ever since her move here full time two years ago.
Maher was born and raised in the Chicago area and in 1990, she purchased a summer home in Long Beach.
“I’ve always been involved in some organization or another wherever I have lived,” Maher said. “When I moved here, I read a great article about John Leinweber and Jim Laughlin in the Lakefront Magazine. Since I was new to the community, I thought getting involved with the Gardens would be a great way to integrate myself.”
For six months, Maher volunteered her time in the Garden’s welcome cabin, greeting new visitors and learning more about the Garden’s rich history. She enjoyed meeting the people who visited the Gardens and was especially interested in visitors from other countries.
“I especially liked talking with the people who came from Europe and made Friendship Botanic Gardens a destination when visiting the area,” Maher said. “I had lived in London for a few years and loved spending time in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. I often see similarities Friendship Botanic Gardens shares with some of the fabulous European Gardens, so I liked to hear what European visitors had to say!”
After spending a few months working in the cabin, volunteering for Garden events and after getting to know John better, he asked Maher to become a member of the board. “I was thrilled and gladly accepted,” Maher said.
Back in the city, Maher was on the board of the Children’s Memorial Hospital Service Board for 10 years as well the Western Springs Historical Society.
“At the Historical Society, I began a preservation award that recognizes owners for restoring and preserving their homes while maintaining the historical integrity and beauty of the structures,” Maher said. “I gained some fundraising experience serving on several different committees of the Children’s Service Board’s Gold Coast Fashion Awards Show and also raising money for Western Springs Historical Society.”
At the Gardens, Maher was the chair of the third annual fundraising gala, “Moonlight in the Gardens Ball,” which took place at Blue Chip Casino on June 16.
“In the past, I have been the chair of several different charity committees, but I have never chaired an event the size of the gala. I gladly accepted the challenge,” Maher said. “It was a lot of fun and everything seemed to fall into place. John is a tremendous fundraiser and advocate for the Gardens, and several of the board members served on the Ball committee as well as some friends I had recruited. With about 325 people in attendance, there was an incredible amount of time and effort put into the gala, and the event was a huge success.”
Maher thought the Ball was fabulous. “We got help from so many wonderful volunteers and board members who tirelessly dedicated their time and talents to help make the Ball a success and a memorable occasion for all who attended,” Maher said. “I am extremely grateful for everyone who came to the event and who now have an interest in helping the Gardens grow.”
Since her time as a Board Member for the Gardens, Maher loves seeing the changes being made.
“The progress that has been made due to all of the fundraising efforts and donations from the community has been absolutely incredible,” Maher said. “In my short time here, I’ve seen such tremendous growth and I love hearing John Leinweber’s ideas and vision for the future of the Gardens. The newest addition to the Gardens, the Horizon Bank Labyrinth Garden is unique to the area and the ArcelorMittal Children’s Garden has become quite the family attraction for local residents, some families are here every weekend!”
While Maher volunteers her time at the Garden’s events, her true passion lives in real estate.
“I got into real estate over twenty years ago because it was a good combination of sales, which every job I’ve had involved some type of sales, and architecture and design,” Maher said. “I love that real estate brings it all together.”
She recently began working for the Line Mullins Group at Coldwell Banker Real Estate.
In her spare time, Maher loves spending time with her four children, who are all in their 20’s and live in Chicago.
“My kids are my greatest accomplishment and I enjoy them so much,” Maher said. “They have been coming to our Long Beach home their entire lives and when they are here, I am in heaven! Two of my kids are now engaged to be married, and I look forward to them having children so I can have another generation of kids who will visit the place my kids call our ‘Cation House. I have truly been blessed and my wonderful children and my involvement with Friendship Botanic Gardens has contributed to the reason why I love my life!”
By Carly Kwiecien
Pottawatomie Park native Kevin Egan has been a supporter and visitor of Friendship Botanic Gardens ever since his youth.
From growing up in the neighborhood behind the 105-acres of land, Egan has found the Gardens to be a memory-making place for decades.
“I went to the Gardens a lot as a child, just playing around,” Egan said. “I always remember having a good time here.”
He was intrigued by the beauty of the Gardens right in his backyard.
In fact, the house that Egan grew up in was developed by Dr. Warren, the same person who was so impressed with the grounds of the garden and the theme of “Peace and Friendship to All Nations,” that he made an offer to the Stauffer brothers to create an International Friendship Garden at the site.
“I always enjoyed planting and everything about nature,” Egan said. “My grandfather and father both loved to garden so it was a natural extension for me to study biology in college.”
Although Egan has been a long-time visitor to the Gardens, he became a member of the board of directors through one of his friends.
“The most rewarding part of being on the Board for the Gardens is knowing you’re trying to change Michigan City for the better and provide a beautiful place where people can come with their families and enjoy the day,” Egan said.
For the past three years, Egan and 14-year-old son, Sean, have put in countless hours into the development of their own garden, which is titled the Juvenile Diabetes Peace Garden.
Sean was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the young age of 7. It is an incurable, chronic disease in which the body is unable to produce the insulin needed to break down and store energy for food.
“Before we began maintaining this garden, it was titled the Peace Garden,” Egan said. “I wanted to incorporate the past into the future by keeping its original name and by adding ‘Juvenile Diabetes’ to the beginning of it.”
This garden serves as a resource to help raise awareness for Type 1 Diabetes research.
“I hope this garden will provide peace to the lives of Type 1 juveniles,” Egan said. “Hopefully people will come out to this beautiful garden and perhaps participate by helping take care of it. There’s a lot of confusion circling the differences in Type 1 and Type 2, so it is my goal to make the community aware of the tremendous differences between the two.”
Egan’s garden is a place of tranquility and bonding for he and his family. One can spot his garden by the American flag, lavender and the abundance of roses.
“It has taken a lot of work to get the garden to be what we had envisioned it to be, and we’ve been keeping up with it by visiting every few weeks to take care of it,” Egan said. “It’s pretty much grown and matured and is just a matter of maintenance now. It’s been nice to come here and be able to spend time with my family doing something different together. I hope that someday Sean will have the same love of gardening as I do.”
In addition to gardening with his family, Egan also enjoys traveling with them all around the country.
“One of our passions is to take a vacation every year and visit a National Park in the United States,” Egan said. “They’re really great places, of course filled with flowers and nature.”
Together, they’ve traveled to Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Badlands, Tetons and Acadia and are already planning to go to Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park next year.
“Every trip we go on is its own adventure,” Egan said.
By Carly Kwiecien
In the beginning there is a plan. In the end there is a flourishing, blooming garden.
Stu Franzen, long-time landscape architect with Planned Environment Associates, is a dedicated member on the Board of Directors at Friendship Botanic Gardens, as he brings new garden arrangements for the grounds by preparing site plans, specifications and cost estimates.
Both he and his wife, Sue, received Bachelor of Science degrees from Purdue University and are both registered landscape architects.
Together, they work for the firm, Planned Environment Associates, which was founded over 37 years ago and brings clients expertise with a vision to design solutions tailored to their needs. The firm is commercial and residential, and institutional design is well-versed on plant material, natural stone and other construction techniques.
He first learned about Friendship Botanic Gardens after meeting John Leinweber, current President of the Board for the Gardens.
“About three years ago, John asked me to be a part of the Board for the Gardens, and you know when John asks you to help with something, you can’t refuse it,” Franzen said. “I was enlisted to be a part of the Board mainly because of my design background and big-picture outlook I could bring to the Gardens.”
Franzen has worked on several projects during his time with the Gardens, such as refurbishing the front entrance, the Veteran’s Memorial Garden, the island on Lake Lucerne and designing the Horizon Bank Labyrinth Garden.
“About a year and a half ago, I unrolled the plans for the maze garden during a meeting at John’s house,” Franzen said. “After he said it was great, we soon got started. Horizon Bank has been gracious enough to fund that garden, which helped move the plan forward.”
The maze is one of the newest additions to the Gardens.
“That was my favorite project because it’s more family-oriented,” Franzen said. “The goal of it is to entice families to walk through the Gardens and to have children run through the maze.”
As Franzen is truly a man of innovative ideas, he has several goals and plans for the Gardens.
“One of my goals is to use some of the artifacts we have from the 1930s and bring them to life,” Franzen expressed. “There’s a big terracotta statue and big concrete spheres, pillars and columns that I want to bring into more visibility as visitors come into the parking lot. Right now, they’re buried in weeds but to use those would show even more of all of the history that is here.”
Franzen enjoys seeing his plans come full circle and is excited about the progress the Gardens have made over the years.
“It’s pretty exciting to be a part of the team here,” Franzen said. “The exciting thing is that we’re going to start getting more recognition, not only in Michigan City, but also in the whole Midwest.”
He believes the success of the Gardens is attributed to the President, as well as the volunteers and the Board of Directors.
“That really boils down to John’s passion to keep everybody motivated,” Franzen said. “It’s easy to get discouraged if things aren’t going well, but from my view, things are always going great. I love when other board members are excited when I bring up a new project. It’s great to have that support.”
By Carly Kwiecien
As the 105-acres of Gardens is a place of pray, peace and preservation, it is also a place for families and children to gather for both educational and entertaining activities and events year-round.
This year, there several family events hosted by the Gardens, some of which include an Easter Egg Hunt, Reptile Romp, Bug Safari, Native American Heritage Day celebration, Butterfly Bonanza, Haunted Trail and Family Fun Fest and the Maple Sugar Time Demonstration.
Ron Taylor, communications director at Friendship Botanic Gardens, has worked in various capacities to put on these events.
“Usually beginning in the winter, I start researching and trying to book potential speakers and presenters from local zoos, universities, etc.,” Taylor said. “I also apply for grants to try and secure funding to pay the cost of supplies. In the days leading up to the event we usually have to bring out a few carloads of supplies and decorations.”
All of these are tasks that must to be done in preparation for the events. However, Taylor has more fun collecting life specimens to put on display for events such as Bug Safari and Reptile Romp.
“For the Bug Safari, I usually head down to Otter Creek and dredge for dragonfly larvae and tiny shrimp-like organisms called scuds,” Taylor said. “If the water levels aren’t too high, I’ll try to wade into Trail Creek in the hopes of finding a giant crayfish.”
Taylor’s interest in nature began at a young age, and he began volunteering at events at the Gardens in the fall of 2014. This soon turned into a full-time position at the Gardens in the summer of 2015.
“I’ve always been fascinated by nature and science, so it was just a natural fit for me to help plan and organize the educational programs when one of the previous volunteers moved away,” Taylor said. “I love being able to share everything I find amazing and wonderful about nature with other people. When I was a kid, my dad and I would walk the Gardens looking for snakes and turtles and frogs, and it’s really a blast to be able to create programs where I can share that fascination and passion with other people in the same setting. It’s like reliving childhood.”
“He had asked me to cut out some construction paper leaves for a craft project that someone was going to do with the kids at the Gardens,” York said. “When he got home that night, I asked him about the craft project and he told me that the person never did the craft that I had prepped for. That's when I decided to take matters into my own hands and volunteered to help him with all the free education events.”
York does most of the shopping for the events after researching decorations and props needed for each one to help set the scene.
“I try to do as much ahead of time, so I have time and energy to enjoy the kids the day of the event,” York said.
York was recently recognized by Friendship Botanic Gardens President John Leinweber as Volunteer of the Year at the Gardens at the Moonlight in the Gardens Ball on June 16.
In her three years as an active volunteer, she has helped the Gardens expand and improve the educational events by introducing the new Annual Easter Egg Hunt and by helping with the development of the Reptile Romp, Bug Safari and Haunted Trails and Family Fall Fest. She has also been a major contributor to the long-standing Butterfly Bonanza, Native American Heritage Day celebration and Thanksgiving Turkey Walk. York donates a great amount of time, creativity and financial contributions to each event.
“I love hearing and seeing the kids enjoying the Gardens,” York said. “I want them to fall in love with the Gardens, so in the future, they will bring their children to enjoy the Gardens and maybe one day become volunteers or even board members themselves.”
Taylor, like York, believes that these events are important because of the impact they can have on children’s’ futures.
“People are always looking for new ways to connect with nature, and those experiences [at our events] can really inspire and enrich people’s lives,” Taylor said. “Just from my own experiences when I was a kid, I’ll never forget how awe-inspiring it was to look through a net full of mud I scooped out of a pond to see all these strange, writhing, aquatic insects bubbling up from the algae and muck. Whether someone is more captivated by the scientific minutiae of pollinators and insect locomotion or the just the stirring visual poetry of nature, those very different ways of exploring and seeing the world can converge in places like the Gardens.”
This duo has big plans for new events to implement in the future, as well as small changes to enhance the current events.
“As far as new events, I would love to have a family overnight campout type of event or day camp, a movie night in the Gardens and maybe have some mammal-themed events in addition to the insects and reptiles,” York said.
Taylor is interested in introducing late-night events for families.
“There’s an entirely different world of nocturnal life that emerges around dusk,” Taylor said. “You can see dozens of bats shooting through the sky above Lake Lucerne, hear great horned owls calling from the wilderness trail, or see and hear flying squirrels scurrying in the treetops. One of our
speakers at the Bug Safari last year explained to me how he attracts and studies moths by throwing a spotlight onto a sheet in the middle of the forest at night. That would be a really fascinating process to show people and there’s no telling what kind of giant, spectacular moths we could draw out of the forests.”
The next event is the Butterfly Bonanza on Sunday, July 29 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Come by the Gardens to watch monarch butterflies be released, make butterfly feeders and learn more about these creatures in all stages of life. This event is free admission.
By Carly Kwiecien
Socialite. Gardener. Event planner. Friend. Alexander deHilster, who has been on the Board of Directors for Friendship Botanic Gardens for three years, is all of these and much more.
Born in the Netherlands, deHilster first traveled to America 32 years ago. After two weeks of visiting, he changed his plane ticket to stay for another six months after falling in love with it.
“When I came to America, I lived in California: San Francisco, San Jose, L.A., Sonoma, then onto D.C., New Orleans before moving to Chicago 19 years ago,” deHilster said.
In Chicago is where he met his husband, Mike. In the recent years, the two purchased a house in the area. Although traveling is in his blood, deHilster and his husband have made Michiana Shores their home with their maltipoos Seymour Kibbles and Rufus de Cinco.
“Northwest Indiana is a hidden gem that nobody knows about,” deHilster said. “My husband and I just fell in love with the area after we learned about it. We do a lot here. We’re still getting our house together and traveling a lot, but there are great restaurants, art scene, people and the lake is amazing.”
While attending a local party, deHilster met a woman who was on the Board of Directors for the Gardens at the time.
“I didn’t know what the Gardens were then, so I asked questions, and before I knew it, I was on the Board,” deHilster said.
deHilster has been a creative event planner for 27 years and has shared his expertise among different companies over that time span. He has had his own company for six years, has worked for another one for seven and has currently been working as an Event Design Manager at Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, Inc. for six years.
Although he spends a lot of time on the road traveling for work, deHilster is able to work from home most days, which allows him to be heavily involved as a Board Member for the Gardens. He demonstrates his event planning expertise at the Gardens by being an active participant on the Ball committee.
This year, deHilster put in several hours to turn his visions for the Moonlight in the Garden Ball fundraising gala into a reality.
Held at BlueChip Casino on June 16, the ballroom area in which dinner, dancing, bidding and paddle raising took place, deHilster created a garden atmosphere by projecting light images of trees onto each wall. Orchids were beautiful centerpieces on each table and a projector with a slideshow of images from the Gardens played on repeat throughout the evening to make guests feel as if they were in there.
He finds his role on the board to be a rewarding one, and relishes in the thanks he and other board members, volunteers and staff receive after an event.
“The best part of planning and attending events at the Gardens is getting the thank-you from all of the attendees afterwards. I love when they exit and just say, ‘This was amazing, thank you for having this.’ That makes it all worth it,” deHilster said.
Although he loves when people attend and enjoy Garden events, he still hopes to make others in the area more familiar with the Gardens and encourages them to visit.
“The transformation the Gardens have taken in the past three years has been amazing, but not everyone in the area knows about it. I’m still trying to make it known publicly,” deHilster said. “I used to bring it up all the time when I met new people and most people still haven’t heard of it. It’s a little, hidden gem and it’s amazing how many people love it so much once they see it,” deHilster said.
As the Gardens are continually growing, deHilster is excited to see what other changes it will encounter in the next decade.
“I love the variety of the Gardens and love the modernization of the new ones,” deHilster said. “We now have a Labyrinth Garden and that is something we really needed. At some point, we should get a center, which can be used for research, for galas, other events or local business meetings. It’d also be great to be able to host weddings in the Gardens year-round. I think it’s possible,” deHilster said.