Mayor Coleen J. Seng and the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Foundation today announced that a $100,000 challenge grant has been received from Harley Bair of Lincoln for the Sunken Gardens capital campaign. The campaign called “Polishing the Gem: Preserving Our National Treasure” will fund the first major renovation of the Gardens in its 73-year history. Bair is the nephew of E.M. Bair, the Lincoln Park Superintendent who created the Gardens at 27th Street and Capitol Parkway.
“Mr. Bair is a longtime supporter of our community, and his contribution to renovate the Sunken Gardens is greatly appreciated,” said Mayor Seng. “With this generous challenge grant, he is showing the same kind of visionary community spirit his uncle did when he created these nationally recognized Gardens.”
As Park Superintendent in 1930, E.M. Bair hired 200 “family men” to build the Sunken Gardens on an abandoned neighborhood dump site. The project was part of a City program to help unemployed men earn money to buy groceries for their families and survive hard times. Crew members worked two eight-hour shifts a week for 40 cents per hour, earning $6.40 per week.
“I want to give my uncle proper recognition for what he did for Lincoln and the Sunken Gardens,” Bair said. “He was a visionary. He took an old dump and made it into a beautiful place for us all to enjoy. I want the Sunken Gardens to continue to be that and more in the future.”
The renovation of the Gardens will include a new handicapped-accessible entrance, a restored cascading water feature, restrooms, maintenance storage, renovated lily pools, an automated irrigation system, lighting, an entry pavilion and new sculptural elements.
Lincoln Parks and Recreation Foundation President Clancy Woolman said the gift brings the campaign total to $1.3 million, 76 percent of the goal of $1.7 million. “The timing of this gift is tremendous, as it we hope that it provides a weighty incentive for other generous supporters in the community to come forth and help us finish this campaign by the end of the year,” Woolman said.
Co-Chairing the campaign for the Foundation are Mike Seacrest and Roger and JeNeane Dodson.
They hope to complete the campaign this year, begin construction in 2004 and unveil the renovated Gardens in the spring of 2005. The Co-Chairs plan to match the challenge grant with gifts from businesses, organizations and individuals and through two new programs that will be announced in mid-October.
About $880,000 has been collected from individuals, businesses and foundations. Major corporate and foundation donors to the campaign at this point are the J.C. Seacrest Trust; Rotary International (Downtown and East); the Winnett Trust; the Ameritas Charitable Foundation; Campbell Nurseries; the Rogers Foundation; Union Bank; the Abel Foundation; the TierOne Bank Foundation; US Bank; the Pegler Foundation; and the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway. The City has committed $100,000 in funds from the Capital Improvement Program each year for two years.
“The Lincoln Parks and Recreation Foundation wants to thank all of the generous donors who have stepped up to the plate and graciously helped us reach the $1.3 million mark,” said Woolman. “While we still need to raise $400,000 to reach our goal, we are confident that this generous gift and the gifts of many others throughout this entire community will help us attract the needed funding to restore the beauty to this 73-year-old gem.”
More information is available on the campaign web site, www.lincolnsunkengardens.com, which can also be reached from the City web site, www.lincoln.ne.gov. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the Sunken Gardens, Lincoln Parks and Recreation Foundation, 2740 “A” Street, Lincoln, NE 68502.