The Friends of the Public Garden (FOPG) celebrated its Golden Anniversary with a virtual fundraising program called “50 Years of Friends: Moments, Memories & Milestones” on Friday, April 30.
Hosted by WCVB-TV’s Rhondella Richardson (who has also emceed the Friends’ “Duckling Day” for more than a decade), the retrospective featured Friends president Liz Vizza, Board Chair Leslie Adam and Friends President Emeritus Henry Lee, among others, looking back on highlights from the history of the nonprofit that works in partnership with the Boston Parks Department to renew, care and advocate for the Public Garden, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall and the Boston Common.
The Friends became one of the first advocacy group of its kind upon its inception in 1970, when a group of concerned residents, led by Lee, first convened to address the deteriorating conditions in the Public Garden. They soon extended their stewardship to caring for the Public Garden and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall as well.
Vizza recounted some of the Friends group’s most noteworthy accomplishments, including restoring the 19th-century Brewer Fountain on the Boston Common and returning it to operational use in partnership with the city about a decade ago, as well as the ongoing restoration of the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial on the Common now underway through a partnership between the Friends and the city, the National Park Service and the Museum of African American History.
Aptly, the Friends first major fundraising effort in 1981, added Vizza, raised $200,000 for the restoration of the Shaw 54th Memorial.
Last year, the group also entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Boston Parks Department, said Vizza, that strengthens and formalizes their partnership and shared commitment to the three parks for the next 50 years.
Besides 1,700 trees, the Friends also cares for the 42 pieces of public art in all three parks, said Adam, including the iconic “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture in the Public Garden, and the long-dormant George Robert White Memorial, locally known as “The Angel,” on the Public Garden, which the group has helped bring back to life.
An important goal for the Friends group now is to make the three parks feel “inclusive and welcoming to all,” said Vizza, through programming like the annual “Making History on the Common” – an interactive field trip that teaches local students about the history of the park – along with ongoing programming being sponsored in conjunction with the Shaw 54th Memorial restoration.
The group is also now working with the city on the nearly completed Boston Common Master Plan, which, said Vizza, aims to optimally balance the park’s use and maintenance.
The Friends, meanwhile, is marking its milestone anniversary with what Vizza describes as “three transformative projects,” including activating the Arlington Street entrance to the Public Garden by making the fountains depicting children on either side of the entry operational for the first time in decades, as well as adding new benches and plantings to the site; illuminating all the statues along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall; and bringing a temporary, interactive art exhibit called “What Do We Have in Common?” to the Boston Common this fall.
Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh (who, along with Lorrie Higgins served as event co-chairs) offered opening remarks and congratulated the Friends on their many accomplishments to date at the onset of the virtual event.
While “50 Years of Friends: Moments, Memories & Milestones” proved to be lucrative for the group, the Friends is still accepting donations in support of the three city parks. Visit https://friendsofthepublicgarden.org/50th/ for more information.