Meet the Regensteins: A Family Legacy Grows at Chicago Botanic Garden

Joseph Regenstein, Sr. was a captain of Chicago industry, who gave tremendous sums to the city's institutions. The University of Chicago was his largest beneficiary, at which the Regenstein Library is named in his memory. 

Not to be overshadowed by his father, Joseph Regenstein, Jr. continued to be a business leader in the city, and carried on the legacy of philanthropy started by his father. Both have passed, but the family's giving continues through The Regenstein Foundation, with city treasures like the Chicago Botanic Garden gaining in a big way.

How big? From 2001 to 2011, the Regenstein Foundation gave more than $45 million to the Garden — around $4 million a year — making the family the institution's largest benefactor.

The Chicago Botanic Garden seems to put the funds to good use. It's a 385-acre accredited plant museum, on nine islands, with 25 gardens representing four habitats. It has 50,000 members, more than any other public garden in the country.

The family foundation has provided a great deal of general support to the Garden, including $2 million in general and operational support in 2011, as well as some absolutely adorable grants to the bonsai exhibit and the family's eponymous fruit and vegetable garden.

But the lion's share of funding goes to the family's traditional pet cause — education. The foundation has poured millions into the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School, an educational program that started in the 1990s for adult learners and has grown into a full-fledged academic institution. 

The school now offers three Ph.D. programs through local university partnerships. It also still offers several adult education classes and certificate programs on a wide range of gardening and science topics, as well as fitness courses and youth programs.

One of the coolest programs the Garden has to offer is Urban Agriculture and School Gardening courses, which teach community members and schools to start local urban gardens and take the greenery well beyond the garden's walls (see Fundraising in Chicago).

Regenstein, Jr., was a notoriously quiet, shy man who didn’t like to be in the spotlight, but the impact he and his father had on the city is impressive. His daughter Susan now leads the family giving as chair of the foundation. They have no website, not much staff, but you can always give Ms. Regenstein a call.