Fund Name: William and Virginia Clemens Family Fund
Fund Established: December 24, 1994
Community Foundation(s): Central Minnesota
Some legacies are of brick and mortar, some fund scholarships, and some create and sustain beauty for all to enjoy. Bill and Virginia Clemens’ legacy in Central Minnesota is broad, ranging from a library at the College of Saint Benedict, a lectureship at Saint John’s University, and for the benefit of all in our communities, the Clemens Gardens.
In 1990, William and Virginia donated the land, roses and the first Robinson Iron fountain to create what is now known as the Virginia Clemens Rose Garden.
Bill and Virginia Clemens’ lives were blessed, yet they experienced immense personal challenges as well. A debilitating illness confined Virginia to their home and this confinement, combined with her love of roses, inspired Bill to establish the rose garden which Virginia could see from their home overlooking the Mississippi River.
Since that beginning, the Clemens Family continued to donate millions of dollars that led to the expansion of the six additional gardens, restrooms and a gift shop all along Kilian Boulevard. They also established an endowment at the Central Minnesota Community Foundation to help fund the operational costs of the Gardens.
“Our desire to contribute to the beauty of our community led us to establish a fund with the Central Minnesota Community Foundation,” Bill said. “We felt this would enable us to sustain this beauty for the community without burdening the city.”
The gardens have become a favorite place for weddings and family celebrations. Each year, the Clemens Gardens and adjacent Munsinger Gardens are visited by thousands of community members and tourists.
“The joy our gift has created for so many people has far exceeded what we had imagined," Bill said after the fund was established. "We know the Community Foundation will manage our gift well and the beauty of the garden will bring pleasure to many for generations.”
The Clemens children had planned for years to create a tribute to their parents in the Gardens, and in 2010 initiated a historical tribute. Spearheaded by their daughter Mary Sue and her husband, Durand Potter, it features life-sized, bronze statues of Bill and Virginia, depicting them strolling through the Gardens in its formative years.
The statues are housed in the first phase of a garden gazebo. This endeavor has expanded to include doming the Gazebo, decorative fencing, and signage telling of the Gardens’ development and history.
Virginia died in August 1998 followed by Bill in March 2016 yet their legacy will live on for future generations to enjoy.