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.