Illinois Audubon Society receives $30 million bequest from the Hebard Estate

The Illinois Audubon Society received a $30 million bequest from the estate of Gilbert and Mary Hebard.  Established in 1897, Illinois Audubon Society is the oldest, independent, member-based organization dedicated to conserving increasingly needed habitat for birds and other wildlife in Illinois. It has conserved 5,548 acres and currently owns and manages 3,272 acres located throughout Illinois and has published articles on the environment and related subjects in Illinois Audubon magazine since 1916. The Hebard bequest is the largest single gift in the organization’s history.

“The Hebards’ incredibly generous donation will advance our vision of an Illinois where birds, nature, and people all thrive in a sustainable way. Their gift is a vote of confidence in the mission and work of the society. It reinforces the powerful impact that nature has on people’s sense of well-being and desire to preserve that for future generations,” said Illinois Audubon Society Board President Deb Carey.

“This is a milestone in our society’s continued growth and will cement the security of our organization for decades, allowing the society to continue to bring our experience, sound science, creative spirit, and long‐term thinking to solve pressing and important environmental challenges in the state,” Carey continued.

Residents and business owners in Knoxville, Illinois, the Hebards actively supported programs for the education and enjoyment of Knox County residents, including development of the Knox County Historical Museum. Their love of nature developed as children, and Mary’s former third-grade students fondly recalled the bird-themed readers used in her classroom. The Hebards enjoyed birding travels throughout the United States and Canada and maintained annual birding lists throughout most of their 68-year marriage. They decided, after attending an engaging Illinois Audubon Society field trip in the 1990s, to designate Illinois Audubon as the beneficiary in their estate planning.

Gilbert Burnside ‘Gil’ Hebard passed away at the age of 94 in October 2012, and Mary Elizabeth ‘Lib’ Hebard passed away at the age of 98 in September 2020.

The funds will be used to support the society’s mission: “to promote the perpetuation and appreciation of native flora and fauna of Illinois and the habitats that support them.” The continued decline of North American bird populations underscores the urgency of conserving habitat for birds and other wildlife, and for supporting educational engagement to foster the next generation of conservationists.

“We are forever grateful for the Hebards for the trust they placed in us to put this money to good conservation use for current and future generations of Illinoisans,” said Jim Herkert, Executive Director of the Society.

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26 thoughts on “Illinois Audubon Society receives $30 million bequest from the Hebard Estate

  1. Oh, my. I remember in the 1980s some financially thin times when annual IAS budgets were real nail-biters. This gift is a recognition of all the good people for decades on the staff, on the boards, as stewards, as loyal members who made sure IAS prospered and continued to support the preservation of land and wildlife. Congratulations to all who have helped and to all who will benefit.

  2. Wow!!! What a testament to the mission and steadfast history of IAS’ amazing work to protect Illinois natural areas.

  3. Wow…just Wow! My sincere gratitude to the Hebard family for this tremendous contribution to the Illinois Audubon Society and Mother Earth.

  4. What a great reward for decades of wonderful work! Those of us who have been involved with the Illinois Audubon Society for many years (I’ve been president of Lake/Cook Chapter in northern Illinois for MANY years!) know how much the organization has accomplished with a handful of staff and a very small budget. This will help ensure that that work can continue and expand for years to come, at a time when our planet and everything in it needs more TLC than ever. This is a wonderful legacy for the Hebards and will be a fabulous legacy for IAS. Oh, the things we can do!

  5. What an incredible contribution and ringing endorsement of the critical work of Illinois Audubon Society. Thank you Gil and Mary!!

  6. What a fabulous vote of confidence in IAS from the Hebards (RIP). I am thrilled for all the good work that this bequest will make possible. Use it well, IAS!

  7. IAS has been protecting habitat for birds and other wildlife for the past 124 years – thanks to YOU, our members and like-minded friends and partners. The extraordinarily generous bequest from the Hebards allows us to implement our 5-year Strategic Plan at most likely a faster pace and with wider impact. My personal thanks to everyone who has a passion for the natural landscape of Illinois. Deb Carey

  8. What a wonderful gift. I only hope that much of it will be to protect and conserve critical
    habitat for so many threatened and endagered species. Thank you, Thank you!

  9. I cannot think of an organization better positioned, with a remarkable staff and outstanding conservation partners, to leverage this bequest to preserve and restore critical habitat and expand the sport of birding in Illinois. Congratulation!!!

    1. That is great news! The gift will secure the future of IAS and the management of its preserves for decades to come.

  10. Wow! What a tremendous opportunity for IAS to boost their already amazing efforts to help the birds of Illinois! Fantastic news.

  11. Thanks to everyone who has been involved as a member or friend of the organization over the years! The incredible gift from the Hebards will advance the mission of Illinois Audubon for years to come. We believe that all Illinoisans benefit from the conservation of our natural areas.

  12. What wonderful news in an otherwise difficult 1 1/2 years medically and politically. I agree it speaks to the proven credibility and heart of the Illinois Audubon Society. I am proud to be a member. Rock On!!!

  13. In a time of rapidly disappearing habitat, it seems so important to spend a large portion of this wonderful gift on land acquisition and the care of it. Also on education. Manage the money wisely so it lasts for generations!

  14. My gratitude extends to the memory of Gilbert and Mary Hebard themselves and for placing their trust in IAS as steward of their dreams. Dream as big as the Hebards did, IAS, and keep offering field trips that change lives. Thanks for sharing this astounding news.

  15. Such an unprecedented and amazing gift merits the greatest care when exercising our responsibilities as the organization’s leaders, staffers, members and volunteers when decision-making and implementing those decisions.

    Scientifically sound guidance, hopefully, will always reign supreme as IAS and its Chapters continue to protect our struggling bird populations and the natural ecosystems they and all wildlife have relied upon for their continued existence over eons of geological and biological change… which continues moment by moment, day by day, year by year, century by century and as long as life persists on this wonderful planet Earth.

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