Despite the early morning rain, more than 80 local military personnel and their family members spent a memorable day Saturday at the Chicago Botanic Garden during its Military Appreciation Day.
The event in Glencoe was co-sponsored by the Tawani Foundation, an organization which, according to their website, seeks to enhance and promote “the awareness of the importance of the Citizen Soldier through preservation of military history & heritage,” among other things and, The USO of Illinois Discovery Kids.
The military families enjoyed a free day of activities, which included narrated tours on the Grand Tram, admission to the Landmarks of America Model Railroad Garden, all 24 of the garden’s display gardens and the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. They were also treated to lunch at the McGinley Pavilion.
"The kids' favorite garden was the American Model Railroad Garden. That was the first one we visited this morning and we'll likely return to it before we leave today. We really appreciate the generosity of all the volunteers and organizations who put this together," said Navy veteran Dena Boyd of Highland Park. She attended the event with her boyfriend's three children. Her boyfriend, however, couldn't attend because his ship, the USS Frank Cable is currently deployed overseas.
The keynote speaker for the event was Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford (R) of Pontiac, Illinois. During his remarks, Rutherford praised the veterans for their service and noted that several veterans serve in key positions within his administration, including a staff sergeant from the Illinois Army National Guard who served two tours of duty overseas, a sergeant from the Army Reserves and a retired navy veteran.
Rutherford asked all the children to give him their attention and then proceeded to give out the number to his office at the Capitol in Springfield.
"Whenever you are in Springfield, give me a call and I'll personally arrange a private tour of the state vault which is usually closed to the public," he said. "There's some neat stuff down there such as gold coins, comic books and jewelry. It'll be a great experience."
Noting the incredulous look on the faces of many in the audience, Rutherford repeated the number a second time to make sure they had all written it down. Except for a one-week period last month, the state vault, which can only be accessed through the sub-basement of the Capitol building, has been closed off to the general public for many years. Rutherford opened the vault to the general public in July as part of a campaign to help boost tourism in Springfield as well as to increase awareness of the state's Cash Dash/Unclaimed Property programs which aim to reunite Illinoisans with long lost money or property.
Aside from the veterans, Rutherford’s remarks seemed to resonate with the Chicago Botanic Garden staff as well. An avid conservationist, Rutherford has personally planted more than 16,000 trees and shrubs on his own property to promote reforestation. Assisted by volunteers from the Chicago Botanic Garden, each military family had the opportunity to create and take home a family dish garden.
According to a prepared statement by the Chicago Botanic Garden, these gardens were described as a garden in "... a small, shallow container or dish with each plant representing a family member, including those unable to attend because they are deployed or absent.”
Carole and Ralph Jassen of Northbrook were two of those volunteers. Of the event, Carole Jassen said, "We are just so happy to be doing this today. We appreciate all that the military members have done for us. I really hope they enjoyed the day and we really enjoyed being part of this today." It was the third season that the Jassens served as volunteers at the garden.