UCLA’s academic disciplines are as diverse as donors’ passions, making it possible for philanthropists to find the ideal areas to support. Morton La Kretz ’48 found his in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, a verdant teaching facility, campus treasure, and public resource since the Westwood campus opened in 1929.
The garden also counts diversity as a valuable asset. Its 7.5 acres house more than 3,000 native and exotic plant species in themed zones, spreading from tropical trees to Mediterranean and desert shrubs, and it contains the greatest variety of Hawaiian flora outside the state. These lush landscapes welcome 50,000 to 75,000 annual visitors, including 7,600 students — whether scholars in botany, ecology, biogeography, and food studies or poets, artists, and musicians seeking a natural environment.
La Kretz was once one of those students. As a first-generation undergraduate, he visited the garden to gather samples for a biology class. After success in real estate development and management allowed him to support educational and environmental causes, the garden was a natural philanthropic fit — and one that La Kretz hopes will help students learn more about plant diversity and protecting the environment, just as he did.
His aspiration is already bearing fruit. Not only are students surveying a vast and varied range of subjects in the garden, but they also are advancing conservation and community education. For example, undergraduates help curate special collections that allow for on-campus research and public viewing, and new plants, exhibits, and cultural and artistic events are in the works.
A Thriving Center
Alongside their efforts, La Kretz’s financial contributions have given the garden much-needed improvements, including visible signage, a wheelchair-accessible ramp, and the La Kretz Garden Pavilion welcome center, which opened with a ribbon-cutting in June. His latest gift will renovate the adjacent botany building entrances and create a first-floor laboratory for students and faculty.
With such support, UCLA can continue cultivating the garden’s role in conservation and community life. And as La Kretz’s time on campus planted the seeds for a successful career, his gifts are now helping the garden, students, and local residents flourish.
Published September 2017