Gatekeepers of the Garden feted at McKee Reception

VERO BEACH — Gatekeepers of the Garden, a group affectionately regarded as McKee Botanical Garden’s “living endowment,’ were feted an invitational cocktail reception Wednesday evening to thank them for their generous and vital support.  

“They literally keep the garden open,” said Cara Chancellor, Director of Marketing. “We hold the reception at the beginning of the season to celebrate our progress, and tell them where their support is going to be used going forward.”

Guests were entertained by the young Gifford Middle School quartet Stringsations, as they mingled by the picturesque Spanish Kitchen and Hall of Giants, built by Waldo Sexton to house what he billed as “the world’s largest mahogany table.”  Many were returning snowbirds, happily catching up with their Vero friends over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and enjoying the balmy Florida evening.

The 80-acre tropical hammock, created in 1929 as McKee Jungle Gardens, closed its doors in 1976 and all but 18 acres were sold-off for development.  The Indian River Land Trust launched a successful campaign to save the remaining property, and purchased the property in 1995 for $1.7 million. More than $9 million in additional funds were raised to restore what had by then become an overgrown jungle.  With sweat equity and funding from volunteers and supporters, the retitled McKee Botanical Garden eventually held its formal dedication in November, 2001.

Earl Morgan, current board president, was eager to share some of the activities planned to  celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Garden’s reopening.

“We’ve got all sorts of things planed. We’re bringing in the Dr. Seuss Exhibit from California, we’re collaborating with Save the Chimps to bring in real astronauts, we’re going to bring in music and we’re going to Go Green in celebration of Earth Day,” said Morgan.  “We’re going to have the most exciting year since McKee reopened.   It’s going to be a great, great year.”

Christine Hobart, McKee’s Executive Director, thanked the committed Gatekeepers during a brief program, and announced the premier of the delightful “A Season of Seuss: The Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden and Art Exhibit,” which will debut on December 15.

“It represents the first time the Garden has secured an exhibit with such a prominent national brand,” said Hobart, of Seuss’ beloved, whimsical characters.

Commenting on the upcoming 10th Anniversary Hobart added, “We are all excited for this opportunity to celebrate not only our past, but also how much we have grown.”

In addition to boasting an impressive 35,000 visitors last year and breaking attendance records at signature events, the Garden has also increased its water lily collection to more than 80 species.  Restoration efforts included the installation of graceful, curved sabal palms in the Medication Garden, to replace those damaged by hurricanes.

Calling the Gatekeepers and their astoundingly high 94% renewal rate one of their greatest accomplishments, Hobart said, “This group truly has become McKee’s living endowment, providing a sustainable resource for the Garden that will continue to transform these 18 acres into one of the most heralded natural landmarks in the state and, we hope, the nation.” {igallery 298}

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