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Taltree Arboretum

The Gabis family donated Taltree Arboretum & Gardens, pictured, to Purdue University Northwest as an arboretum in December. It will be renamed Gabis Arboretum at Purdue Northwest.

VALPARAISO — The Taltree Arboretum & Gardens board of directors jointly with the Gabis family will donate Taltree Arboretum & Gardens to Purdue University Northwest as an arboretum for public, educational, conservation and recreational use.

Damien and Rita Gabis are Taltree’s founders and Damien Gabis serves as a Taltree board member. The gift to the university is valued at approximately $12 million.

The two entities jointly released a statement Wednesday morning:

"Taltree Arboretum & Gardens Foundation’s Board of Directors; Damien and Rita Gabis, the founders of Taltree Arboretum & Gardens; and Purdue University Northwest (PNW) today announce a unique partnership in which the Taltree Arboretum & Gardens Foundation and the Gabis family will donate the arboretum and its more than 300 acres to the university.

"PNW will continue to operate the property, to be renamed Gabis Arboretum at Purdue Northwest, as an arboretum for public, educational, conservation and recreational use."

PNW will assume operations of the arboretum upon closing of the transfer of ownership, anticipated to occur in early 2018. The renaming of the property is pending final approval of the Purdue University Board of Trustees in February 2018.

PNW Chancellor Thomas Keon said it is the largest donation in the history of the PNW campuses to date.

"We are excited and truly grateful to the Gabis family," Keon said Wednesday morning by telephone.

"They have been working on developing the Taltree property for some time and developing it into what it is today. The Gabis family decided they wanted to find a home for it so that it would be around for many, many years and that drove them to consider gifting it to the university," he said.

Keon said the Gabis family contacted him in February.

Stephanie Blackstock, Taltree Arboretum & Gardens executive director, said the Taltree board and the Gabis family have been exploring options for sustainability with a focus on potential partners with complementary missions.

"While other institutions were considered, the overall consensus was that Purdue Northwest is a perfect alignment with Taltree’s mission and the two entities will complement each other," she said.

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Blackstock said the 10 employees are excited to become part of Purdue. She said while the deal is being finalized, the Taltree board of directors plan to remain engaged in supporting the arboretum through events, sponsorships and sharing the good will of the arboretum throughout the community. The Gabises plan to do the same.

Taltree board member Miche Grant said, "On behalf of the board of directors, the Gabises, and the entire Taltree family we are thrilled with this partnership that will take Taltree, soon to be the Gabis Arboretum at Purdue Northwest, into the future. This decision will mean expanded educational opportunities, and a future that will allow greater use and access to the grounds and facilities not only for the present but for generations to come.

Keon said they met with the employees yesterday and will be retaining all of the staff members. "We are excited they will now become PNW employees," the chancellor said.

Keon said the partnership with Taltree will enable PNW to offer new and expanded academic courses, enhance recruitment efforts, support community educational and outreach programs, conduct new research projects, and engage further with area K-12 teachers and students.

According to a statement released by Damien Gabis, "This partnership with Purdue Northwest is a tremendous opportunity for the sustainability of Taltree as a public arboretum. Rita and I would like to thank those who have played a part in Taltree’s growth and success, which would not have been possible without the support of our board of directors, our dedicated staff, numerous devoted volunteers and our faithful members. We are excited about the prospect of becoming a small part of Purdue Northwest and what the future holds.”

Taltree Arboretum & Gardens is a 300 plus-acre, dog-friendly oak preserve of formal gardens, woodlands, wetlands and prairies with more than six miles of hiking trails. Taltree is open year-round and offers a wide variety of events and classes for all ages. Proceeds received by the nonprofit organization power its conservation, restoration and education initiatives.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.