A moon gate in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Gardens. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

With gift, land preserve now includes Abby Garden

MOUNT DESERT — The Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve will use part of the $20 million it will get from the estate of David Rockefeller Sr., who died last March at the age of 101, to double its operating budget and the size of its staff.

And the preserve announced Wednesday that ownership of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden has been transferred to the preserve through a bequest from Rockefeller’s estate. Abby was David Rockefeller’s mother.

Rockefeller and his late wife, Peggy, created the Island Foundation, which later became the Land & Garden Preserve, to preserve private lands and gardens near their seasonal home in Seal Harbor. Their daughter, Neva Goodwin, is chairman of the preserve’s board of directors.

The preserve owns and maintains the Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden, as well as the 1,022 acres in Seal Harbor, including Little Long Pond and surrounding woodlands and meadows, which Rockefeller gave to the preserve in 2015.

“The preserve is so grateful to Mr. Rockefeller and the Rockefeller family for their tradition of generosity and leadership in protecting these magnificent lands and gardens,” said Rodney Eason, the preserve’s chief executive officer.

An article in the April 2017 issue of “Architectural Digest” said the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden “evokes the Far East that its namesake saw in 1921 on her sole trip to that part of the world.”

Describing the prodigious art collector as “an ardent Orientalist,” the magazine said Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s “grandest Asian investment was the private wonderland that landscape architect Beatrix Farrand created for her on Maine’s Mount Desert Island between 1926 and 1935.”

The preserve said in a press release Wednesday that plans will be finalized in early spring for allowing public access to the garden, which for many years has been open to the public one day a week for a few weeks in the summer.

“Historically, the Rockefeller family has carefully managed access in order to protect the fragile environment and to ensure high standards of maintenance,” the press release said.

In addition to the gifts of lands and gardens, Eason said, “The financial support that Mr. Rockefeller has pledged for our endowment will cover staffing, benefits and operational expenses for the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, the support greenhouses at McAlpin Farm, as well as the lands he has donated.”

The preserve had a 2017 operating budget of about $1.1 million. Eason said the 2018 budget is still being developed, but he expects it to more than double “to properly care for these majestic lands and gardens.” He said the preserve’s staff would double, as well, from 17 to 34 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees.

“Some of the systems and structures that are part of these [Rockefeller land] gifts are nearly 90 years old and will need additional upgrades and improvements over time,” Eason said. “To finance these … will require a thoughtful approach to raise additional financial support beyond Mr. Rockefeller’s generous gifts.”

MCHT gets $5M

Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), which is based in Topsham and has an office in Somesville, is receiving $5 million from the Rockefeller estate. David Rockefeller’s wife, Peggy, was a co-founder of MCHT, and their son, Richard, was chairman of the board for many years.

In 2002, David Rockefeller pledged $5 million through a bequest to be honored after his death.

“To date, MCHT has received $1.3 million of this $5 million pledge,” said Richard Knox, MCHT’s director of communications. “We expect to receive the balance after the estate is settled. These funds will go toward our general land conservation work on MDI and the whole coast.

“We’ve conserved land in every coastal county, and we manage more than 120 public preserves, all free and open to the public,” Knox continued. “We are extremely grateful to the Rockefellers for all they have done to support this work.”

Philanthropic Pledge

Rockefeller, at his death, had an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion. In 2010, he signed the Philanthropic Pledge, initiated by fellow billionaires Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, in which they challenged others to give half of their assets to philanthropy during their lifetime or at their death.

“I am pleased to say this has long been my intent and my practice,” Rockefeller wrote at the time.

“Our family continues to be united in the belief that those who have benefitted the most from our nation’s economic system have a special responsibility to give back to our society in meaningful ways.”

In an interview with the Islander in 2015, Rockefeller said, “From my childhood, I was taught to put a contribution in the plate at church and taught that being giving and generous to other people because we were better off was an important thing. I think that was good advice on the part of my parents and has remained as something I have tried to do ever since.”

Rockefeller’s will stipulated that his assets, including homes and vast art collection, be sold and that the proceeds be given to designated charities and other nonprofits.

Rockefeller owned about 15,000 works of art. This spring, Christie’s will auction off more than 2,000 paintings, sculptures and other items from his collection. They include works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper.

In addition to the two Maine-based nonprofits, the nine that will benefit directly from the art auction and the sale of other assets are those that David and Peggy Rockefeller had long supported. The bequests include $125 million to the Museum of Modern Art in New York; $109 million to Harvard University, some of which is designated for the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; and $100 million to Rockefeller University.

Smaller bequests are $25 million each to the Council on Foreign Relations and the Stone Barns Restoration Corporation, at least $15 million to the David Rockefeller Fund, $10 million each to the Americas Society and the Rockefeller Family Fund, and $5.5 million to the American Farmland Trust.




Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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