The holiday giving season may be over, but the Queens Botanical Garden is getting a big present: the largest philanthropic donation in its history.
On Tuesday, the 83 year-old Flushing institution announced an $8 million gift from the Bluestone Foundation. The money will be used to develop and launch environmental education programs for young people in Queens.
In return, the names of Joan and Norman Bluestone, who established the foundation, will adorn a new city-funded building to house those programs, for which the Botanical Garden is expecting to break ground this summer.
Evie Hantzopoulos, the garden's executive director, said a meeting with foundation trustees showed a direct connection between the new building's designated purpose and the Bluestone Foundation's mission of serving students in all Queens communities.
"They firmly believe in the power of education, and making sure that every young person has the opportunity to engage in high-quality programming that is rooted in environmental education and sustainability and the love of nature,” Hantzopoulos told Gothamist.
“Part of what we'll be doing is reaching out to communities in Queens that may not come to the garden,” she continued. “We're going to do some special outreach to the Rockaways and to Jamaica, and really make sure that kids in underserved communities are really immersed in the kind of innovative programming that will really spark their minds and their curiosity on some of the critical issues that we're facing.”
Key to the gift's establishment was Joan Bluestone’s personal connection to the garden. She had been a long-time volunteer, and served on its board of directors before her death in 2020.
Sara Herbstman, the Bluestones’ niece and current president of the foundation’s board, described Joan and Norman as “quiet people” and “not demonstrative.” In fact, it wasn’t until the gift to the botanical garden was under discussion that members of the Bluestone family discovered Joan had arranged to have a tulip tree planted in Norman’s name, near the garden’s Main Street entrance, after he passed away in 2011.
Joan Bluestone, Herbstman said, directed garden employees not to “make any kind of big deal about it.”
She laughed as she related the story.
“They loved the gardens,” she said. “But all the fanfare and the press releases and press conferences – this is not who they were.”
Norman Bluestone had been a founding member of the Bluestone Organization, a Queens-based real estate company. In 2002, he and Joan established the Bluestone Foundation to assist the education of underprivileged students in the New York area, primarily around Queens.
According to Herbstman, previous gifts went to Queens College, St. John’s University and the Columbia School of Nursing.
But, she added, the money bequeathed to the botanical garden is “certainly the largest gift the foundation has given.”