This past summer, the fence lining Longenecker Horticultural Gardens along Arboretum Drive started to get a makeover. Most of the old woven-wire fence was removed in May by this year’s AmeriCorps Cedar 2 team. In August, thanks to a generous donation from Leslie Ladd and Bill Hantke, two new stone columns were built across from the Wingra Woods parking lot, providing a welcoming entrance to the Pinetum, along with 400 feet of split-rail fence. The LHG fence has long needed an overhaul, and Leslie and Bill, who have lived in the Arboretum neighborhood since 2003, provided the lead gift to begin the project.
Bill grew up in Edgerton and attended the UW–Madison. He made his career in northern California running a packaging machinery business. Leslie, who has a Master’s Degree in deaf education, was also in the San Francisco Bay area teaching at a residential school for the deaf. Mutual friends introduced them. By 1998 they were both retired and had sold the business. Wanting to leave northern California, they dreamed of living in a smaller thriving community and finding a home in a natural environment. They had enjoyed Madison when visiting Bill’s mother and decided to consider it as a place to live. The first house that came up in an online search was the house in the Arboretum. “It was instant love, the setting. It was exactly what we hoped to find, somewhere in the world, and it just happened to be in Madison,” says Leslie.
As new residents, they removed a lot of invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle from their property and planted native flowers, as many as would flourish in the shade. Hugh Iltis, the noted UW–Madison botany professor, lived behind them and coached them about what was in the yard and gave them plants.
They’ve always felt very lucky to live in the Arboretum and have been involved in various ways over the years. Leslie initially volunteered in the Visitor Center bookstore and at the reception desk. Bill was invited to join the Friends of the Arboretum board, and when he finished serving six years, Leslie became a board member. She recently finished her first three-year term on the FOA board as secretary. They are active in the Arboretum neighborhood association (Leslie is currently the secretary), encouraging other neighbors to participate and inviting Arboretum speakers to talk at meetings about neighborhood concerns such as invasive species removal, land care projects, and tick research. Their Arboretum interests are diverse, from children’s education to care of the Native American mounds to ongoing land care and garden projects—they even pick up trash on their regular walks. They are dedicated advocates and genuine neighbors.
More recently, they had been talking to Donna Paulnock, interim director of the Arboretum, about opportunities to give. “We wanted to make a bequest now, while we’re still living, something that will enhance the Arboretum but something just a little different,” Leslie says, from commemorative benches, trees, and arches. David Stevens, the LHG curator, inquired if they would be interested in an idea he had to replace the decades-old wire fence, which seems to date back to the earliest years of the Arboretum, with a split-rail fence. They loved the idea, and so did Donna. David says, “I can’t thank them enough. Their generosity made this mental picture I had shared with them a reality. The fence and columns blend beautifully into the landscape, complementing the Longenecker collection.” Bill and Leslie were delighted to contribute to a beautiful, welcoming addition to the gardens.
Their commitment over the years has enriched the Arboretum in countless ways. Now they’ve helped beautify Longenecker for all who visit. Their generous donation provided for the new stone entrance columns at the top of the glacial drumlin ridge and 400 feet of split-rail fence. They hope their gift will inspire others to give toward completing the additional 2,200 feet of needed fencing. If you’re interested in making a donation toward the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens fence campaign, please call Mark Wegener at (608) 265-2450.
“We get so much enjoyment out of the Arboretum, we feel that we should give back and help. This is our home, it’s part of our home,” says Bill. When asked what they love most about the Arboretum, they both reply “peaceful.” And both believe that while not everyone can live here, everyone can enjoy the peace, beauty, and opportunities offered by this unique natural area 10 minutes from the Capitol.
—Susan Day, Arboretum communications coordinator