Rotary’s Friendship Garden: ‘a legacy to the community’

Bobkiewicz alongside the new sign at the north end of the garden.

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who is also president of the Rotary Club of Evanston, showed off the club’s International Friendship Garden, adjacent to the Ecology Center, in a brief rededication ceremony Thursday afternoon, following the club’s weekly meeting.

More than a half-century old, the garden was referred to by Bobkiewicz as “a legacy to the community and to Rotary International,” which is headquartered in Evanston.

Stretching from the Ecology Center’s parking lot on Bridge Street southward to Emerson Street, on the west bank of the North Shore Channel, the garden is a key feature of the Ladd Arboretum, named after Edward R. Ladd, a local publisher and the second president of the Rotary Club.

Looking south from the north end of the garden.

Today the garden is maintained by members of the club on land that once housed Army barracks for returning World War II veterans attending Northwestern University under the G.I. bill.

Leading the tour of the garden Thursday, along with Bobkiewicz, was Dick Peach, a past president of both the club and the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.

Peach recalled that when the Channel was completed, it left on its banks huge amounts of earth and clay that was eventually removed for other projects. When the barracks were no longer needed by Northwestern, the buildings were torn down, leaving a desolate-looking area.

A Ladd Arboretum Committee, headed by School District 65 Superintendent Oscar Chute, raised funds from the community to supplement a $10,000 appropriation from the City Council, and the Arboretum was dedicated on June 10, 1960.

Members of the Rotary Club of Evanston at the north end of the garden in the Ladd Arboretum.

Shortly thereafter, the Friendship Garden was developed “as a living symbol of goodwill toward all people of the earth,” according to club officials, and has been maintained ever since by the club.

Today it is a scenic attribute of Evanston that is visited regularly by Rotarians from around the world who are in town for Rotary business.

Bobkiewicz noted that the garden is open to the public and he said Thursday that he hopes Evanstonians will take the opportunity to visit it often. 

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