The Early Years of the American Foundation (Part 8 of an 8-Part Series)

This eight-week blog series delves deeper into the history of Bok Tower Gardens and provides a rich historical accounting of the early days. The source document is from a collection of statements entitled “Its Origin, Meaning, and Purpose” created by The American Foundation, Inc. You can read the First Installment, Second Installment, Third Installment, Fourth Installment,Fifth Installment, and Sixth Installment, Seventh Installment at Blog Tower Gardens.

Written by The American Foundation’s President William G. Nagel, the seventh section discusses the financing of the Foundation.

The Move to Florida: 1970s to 1996
By the last third of the 1970s, I had been holding one-on-one conversations with several Board members exploring their views on the future of the Foundation. Among the questions to which I wished answers were these:
1. Did the Boks and members of the Board have the resources and the will to raise the money necessary to provide stewardship for the Sanctuary, Tower, and Pinewood?
2. Would the current board yield to younger and more vigorous leadership?
3. Would the Board consider closing the Philadelphia office?

I read the answers to be “no” on the first question and a qualified “yes” to the other two.

Following these discussions, I made a series of recommendations to the Board as outlined below:
1. Move the Foundation’s offices to Lake Wales
2. Begin the process of recruiting Floridians to the Board
3. Seek new endowment money, especially for the Tower, which I saw as central to the Sanctuary, but a sponge absorbing large amounts of revenues
4. Secure long-term funding for Pinewood
5. Find a leader to run the Foundation and the Sanctuary

The Board accepted the first four recommendations but delayed acting on my replacement until Jon Shaw was recruited four years later. Early in 1980, the Foundation’s office was moved to Lake Wales and installed in the house built for Neil McMillian, the first Director of Horticulture who cared for the Gardens from 1926-1965. That home remained the Foundation’s headquarters until the new Visitor’s Center opened in 1996.

In 1980, board member William Eagleson, Chairman of the Board of Girard Bank, suggested that we recruit Guy Botts, Chairman of the Board of Barnett Bank, for membership. We did. In November 1980, he accepted membership. The Foundation commenced its planned transfer of Board members from the Bok family and associates to prominent Floridians.

Thus began the remarkable and often laudatory changes which have occurred since my retirement in 1983. These changes include growth in the endowment, expenses, and incomes. I am confident that you will want to take the steps necessary to continue protecting the core of the beauty and repose of Bok Tower Gardens.