|Press Release from University of Arkansas. *adapted for this blog.|
FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2021 New Sculpture Garden Part of Memorial Gift for Garvan Woodland Gardens A $120,000 gift from Tom and Nancy Vandegrift will memorialize their late daughter and create a new space for children and families at Garvan Woodland Gardens. FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Tom and Nancy Vandegrift of Hot Springs are contributing $120,000 to the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas to create a permanent sculpture garden in memory of their daughter, Lee Vandegrift Felts.
The Lee Vandegrift Felts Sculpture Garden will be located in the Bob and Sunny Evans Children’s Garden in Garvan Woodland Gardens, which is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School. “Tom and Nancy Vandegrift have become valued members of the Garvan Woodland Gardens family and the larger Fay Jones School community since their arrival in Hot Springs,” said Dean Peter MacKeith. “I have come to appreciate their passion for the mission of the gardens and their sensitivity to the experience of the woodland preserve. This gift of sculptures, in honor of their daughter Lee, possesses multiple meanings, but surely enhances the Evans Children’s Garden in ways that will enthrall children of all ages. I look forward to the installation of these sculptures and already express my gratitude to Tom and Nancy for sharing their love for their daughter in this way with us.”
The oldest of three children, Lee Vandegrift Felts passed away in 2019 at the age of 56. She was an avid horsewoman and started riding hunter and jumper horses when she was 12 years old. Felts rode competitively for four years and ran a thoroughbred horse farm outside of Lexington, Kentucky, where she lived with her two daughters, Taylor and Alexandra (Lexi). “Lee was kind and loyal and radiated love to all around her,” her father, Tom Vandegrift, said. “Nancy and I have been involved with Garvan Woodland Gardens from the beginning, and we wanted to establish something permanent to express Lee’s joy and love for people. We also wanted this to be something parents and children could enjoy together.” Nancy Vandegrift noted that, as friends of Bob and Sunny Evans, it was important for them to do something in memory of Lee to enhance the children’s garden, and she let Sunny know about their plans personally.
The sculpture garden will feature the work of artist Tim Cherry, who is inspired by wildlife and creates artwork with graceful, simple lines and forms. *The Tim Cherry sculptures are: “Garden’s Edge” (rabbit) 7 feet long will be the featured piece; “Racing Razorback;” “Otter Motion;” “Mother Goose;” “Wise Guy” (owl); “River Mates” (trio of heron, turtle and fish); and “Butter Ball” (turkey). They will be placed for visitors to discover and explore.
Sunny Evans said, “The children’s garden was so important to my husband, Bob, and this sculpture garden will greatly enhance it. Everyone who visits it will enjoy it.” She also noted that it is important to her that the gardens be enjoyed by everyone. “They are everyone’s gardens,” Evans said. “And the children’s garden belongs to the children. It is just the way I feel. It’s where my heart is.”
The Lee Vandegrift Felts Sculpture Garden is scheduled for completion by the end of 2021, and its naming is subject to the approval of the chancellor and the Board of Trustees of the university.
Taylor Felts, Lee’s older daughter, said, “This gift is a wonderful, whimsical idea. It could not be more reflective of our mother and would make her so happy. She was always a light to other people and was such a bright and joyous person — and she had such a tremendous capacity for fun. She loved everyone — including her horses — and was so nurturing and maternal. Our mother loved us infinitely, and nothing was ever more important to her than ensuring that we felt loved. It’s very special to both Lexi and I that her name will now be associated with a place of such love and laughter between parents and their children.”
Tom Vandegrift said, “When I think of Lee, many things were descriptive of her life — her faith, her courage, her dedication to her daughters and her animals… really, everything she participated in.” “We are so thankful for this creative and imaginative gift from Tom and Nancy Vandegrift,” said Bob Bledsoe, executive director of Garvan Woodland Gardens. “They have always been very good friends of the garden, and these sculptures will honor Lee’s memory in a special way. The goal of the children’s garden has always been interactive learning, and these sculptures will be an extension of that educational component. They will give parents and children alike the opportunity to learn more about wildlife and ecology and add to the world-class experience offered by the gardens, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2025.”
Tom Vandegrift was a member of the Campaign Arkansas committee for Garvan Woodland Gardens, and he and his wife are included in the Towers of Old Main, a giving society for the university’s most generous benefactors. They are also counted as Thoroughbreds for their years of consecutive giving to the university.
About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas’ flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News. -30-
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