President of The Morton Arboretum receives Arbor Day Foundation's highest honor

Dr. Gerard T. Donnelly, President and CEO of The Morton Arboretum in front of a flowering crabapple
Dr. Gerard T. Donnelly, President and CEO of The Morton Arboretum
May 2, 2016

This Arbor Day, Dr. Gerard T. Donnelly, President and CEO of The Morton Arboretum, was recognized with the J. Sterling Morton Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees.  

This prestigious award recognizes an outstanding individual for positive impact on the environment due to lifelong commitment to tree-planting and conservation at national and international levels.

Not only is this award a significant honor for Dr. Donnelly professionally and personally, but it reinforces the Morton connection shared by the Arbor Day Foundation and The Morton Arboretum.

Arbor Day was established as a tree-planting holiday in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton, whose son Joy Morton founded The Morton Arboretum in 1922, building upon the legacy expressed through the family motto, “plant trees.”

The Arbor Day Foundation was formed in 1972 upon the 100th anniversary of Arbor Day and to carry on the work of its originator. 

The award was presented during an event held April 29-30 in Nebraska City, ancestral home of the Mortons and birthplace of Arbor Day, which is celebrated the last Friday in April in many states, including Illinois.

Trained as a botanist and forest ecologist at Michigan State University, Dr. Donnelly has been in the lead position at The Morton Arboretum since 1990.  He has led the substantial growth of the institution, which ranks as the leading arboretum in the world, advancing programs in plant collections, education, and science and conservation, as well as expanding public services and extending the organization’s influence regionally, nationally, and internationally.

He has provided leadership roles for the American Public Gardens Association and the Directors of Large Gardens network, and is currently on the boards of Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the International Association of Botanic Gardens. He has led the establishment of ArbNet, a professional network of arboreta, and spearheaded a partnership with Botanic Gardens Conservation International to further the goals of the Global Trees Campaign, the only international program dedicated to saving the world's threatened tree species.

Dr. Donnelly oversees a workforce of 400 employees and 1,300 volunteers.  Serving 1,000,000 visitors and 44,000 members on an annual basis, The Morton Arboretum works to inspire participation in the tree-planting mission begun by its namesake family.