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.