CHARLESTON -- Former Eastern Illinois University professor Dr. Wesley Whiteside dedicated his life to the study of botany. To further enhance and promote Whiteside’s enduring legacy, EIU has worked with its community partners at the Douglas-Hart Foundation to transition operation of the locally famous Whiteside Garden, which will be combined with the Douglas-Hart Nature Center and Friendship Garden.
“Honoring Dr. Whiteside and his intent for the garden to positively impact generations of future students was foremost to everyone involved in this transition,” said Dr. David Glassman, president of Eastern Illinois University. “To that end, EIU and the Douglas Hart Foundation came together to develop a means to expand and grow upon what Dr. Whiteside created.”
“The Douglas-Hart Foundation enjoys the support of community members whose passion is preserving natural areas and expanding educational opportunities,” added Gary Boske, the foundation’s executive director. “The Whiteside Garden will be an exciting new addition and we’re confident our community stakeholders will help us to support the ongoing maintenance and growth of this extraordinary and unique botanical garden.”
Boske noted that plans are already underway to improve access to the garden with an eye toward greater public engagement.
“Dr. Whiteside delighted in showing his garden to visitors, and we want the entire community to enjoy the Whiteside Garden as well,” he said. “This garden will continue to be a wonderful tribute to the life and memory of Dr. Whiteside and to the importance of EIU as a premier educational institution in our region.”
The Douglas-Hart Foundation already manages the Douglas-Hart Nature Center and the Friendship Garden in Mattoon. According to Boske, both areas enjoy support from a dedicated group of experienced volunteers. He shared that the Douglas-Hart Foundation board and the center’s many supporters have expressed strong interest in growing and expanding Whiteside Garden in an effort to continue educating young people while cultivating the imagination and interest of future botanists and conservationists.
Following a review by the Charitable Trusts Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and after receiving the appropriate legal approvals, Whiteside Garden now resides with the Douglas-Hart Foundation. The existing endowment established by Dr. Whiteside through the EIU Foundation will likewise transition to the Douglas-Hart Foundation.
Whiteside himself was a nationally recognized botanist and professor at Eastern Illinois University. As a child, he learned to garden under the guidance of his mother and grandmother. His love for gardening would ultimately grow into a career spanning from 1960 to 1987 in the former Botany Department at EIU. During his teaching tenure, Whiteside shared his life’s work with countless EIU students, and in 1963 he began growing his own garden, adding many unique and rare plant varieties along the way.
When Whiteside began hosting an annual garden walk, his creation began receiving widespread regional attention for its beauty and variety. Whiteside remained an active gardener until his passing in July 2015. In the years preceding his death, Dr. Whiteside worked with EIU officials to provide for the garden beyond his own lifetime.
“Dr. Whiteside wished for the garden to benefit EIU students and faculty. He recognized that hands-on learning is important, especially in the fields of botany and environmental science,” Glassman said. “That’s why we are exceptionally pleased that Douglas-Hart Foundation, a strong community-based organization and a leader in promoting natural areas, stepped forward to support our shared vision for the future of Whiteside Garden.”
Glassman also noted that EIU students and faculty will continue to benefit from the Whiteside Garden, sharing that EIU will continue to have a strong presence in the future of the garden and that students and faculty will enjoy ongoing access for research and learning.
Students also will continue to volunteer in the maintenance and growth of the garden under the leadership of the Douglas-Hart Foundation. In addition, Glassman stated, a joint committee composed of two representatives each from EIU and Douglas-Hart will collaborate on future partnerships and planning for the garden.