The University’s Horticulture Center, located in an expansive field north of campus, is home to hundreds of plant species nurtured by community members and university staff. The Tulley family—John, Janet, Anna, and Joseph—are among the center’s volunteers. They first stumbled upon the center during a bike ride and have since dedicated hundreds of hours planting, weeding and watering. Now a senior history and anthropology major at Illinois State, Anna Tulley has also painted murals in the center’s Children’s Garden.
Volunteer support, along with funds from the Drs. Margaret and Harold Balbach Endowment, enable the center to thrive. The endowment supports the horticulture education program at Illinois State which aims to educate students in the fundamentals of horticulture, including development of an appreciation and understanding of ornamental and vegetable plants, and their conservation and sustainability.
“The whole ISU horticulture-business program is an interesting and useful program that fills a niche that isn’t actually filled by any other university in the area,” said Dr. Harold Balbach.
Dr. Balbach’s wife, Dr. Margaret Balbach, helped found the program in the 1980s after earning a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Illinois. Dr. Harold Balbach was an ecology professor at the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University. Together, the two dedicated their lives to caring for the natural world.
Under Dr. Margaret Balbach’s oversight, the program expanded and grew gradually. Soon, businesses began to reach out to the department seeking recent graduates for employment opportunities.
Two of Dr. Balbach’s former students remain involved in her vision. Jessica Chambers ’93 is the Horticulture Center’s director. Dr. David Kopsell ’93 is a horticulture professor in the Agriculture Department. They each utilize resources from the Balbachs’ endowment in their respective areas.
“The Balbach endowment provides everything for the center; from plants and equipment repair to recruitment materials for prospective students, the endowment is essential to our long-term success,” said Chambers. “We are so grateful to Margaret and Hal for their generosity.”
Thanks to support from the endowment, the center remains a resource for area families, students and visitors. Its annual Autumnal Festival showcases volunteers’ hard work and the Balbachs’ generosity.
“The Illinois State University Horticulture Center is a local specimen of Midwestern botanical beauty, providing a vibrant living learning laboratory for all of us to enjoy,” said volunteer and ISU staff member Janet Tulley ’93, M.S. ’08. “We value the intergenerational opportunity and the variety of responsibilities involved in volunteering for such a worthy endeavor.”