The Association of Fundraising Professionals NWI Chapter last month honored Rita and Damien Gabis for their generosity and environmental stewardship with the Outstanding Philanthropist Award in the category of Individual/Couple or Family by at the group's National Philanthropy Day Celebration at Sand Creek Country Club.
Despite the fog outside, workers inside the 330-acre Taltree Arboretum & Gardens visitors center are busy setting up the model Christmas village and preparing for a December filled with weekend visitors in search of pictures with Santa, stories, cookies and cocoa.
While the workers set up, Rita and Damien Gabis reflect on their journey to convert acres of their private farmland into a public arboretum boasting several miles of hiking trails, a restored wetland, woodland and prairie areas, habitats for woodcock and pheasant along with a native plant garden and Monarch station.
Along the way, they developed Taltree Arboretum & Gardens into a nonprofit organization. Taltree is located at 450 West 100 North near Valparaiso, south of U.S. 30. With almost 20 years invested in developing the arboretum, the couple says their main concern going forward is sustainability of the land as an arboretum.