For the Kleins, there is a connection between Forest Park's cultural institutions being able to thrive and Forest Park Forever's ability to care for "the spaces in between."

As Carol Swartout Klein and Ward Klein recently walked through a prairie on the east side of Forest Park near Steinberg Skating Rink, they reminisced about their Park memories.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a little girl,” recalls Carol, a member of the Forest Park Forever Board of Directors. “It was just mowed grass and very basic. I remember holding my dad’s hand walking into the Muny.”

Fast forward several decades. Having met at Northwestern University, the couple was connecting anew in St. Louis. “When I moved here to work for Ralston Purina,” Ward says, “Carol agreed to show me around. One of our first dates was a picnic on Art Hill in Forest Park.”

More than 35 years later, Carol and Ward are still frequent Forest Park visitors, as well as highly engaged supporters.

“We’re here several days a week, often walking dogs or riding bikes,” Carol says. “Forest Park provides the chance to reset and refresh. Just like migrating birds use places of nature for that, I think people do, too.”

The couple has seen Forest Park’s dramatic transformation first-hand.

“Back in the 1980s when we were first visiting together, the Park was a little ratty on the edges in terms of infrastructure and upkeep,” Ward says. “What’s happened over these past few decades is just wondrous.”

“That’s what Forest Park Forever has been able to do,” Carol adds. “The organization has been able to work with the City to transform the Park from basically a manicured lawn to this wonderful place where nature thrives. The prairie back here has created this ecosystem that has allowed a diversity of plants, and the plants brought in a diversity of birds, and the birds brought in a diversity of small mammals. What’s wonderful about Forest Park is it has attracted a diversity of people, too. For St. Louis, this is really important.”

Ward, who formerly led both Edgewell and Energizer, believes a thriving Forest Park is an essential regional asset. “We used Forest Park as one of jewels to attract employees and executives to St. Louis,” he says. “The Park has joined that list of St. Louis institutions that are world-class.”

For Carol, whose additional community leadership includes authoring the Painting for Peace book for Ferguson and serving on the Board of Great Rivers Greenway, Forest Park is “integral to connecting the community — it’s a hub.”

Carol and Ward have made an extraordinary leadership gift to the Forever campaign, one that will have an impact for generations.

Forest Park is wonderful now, but the question is what it will be like 20, 50, 100 years from now. This Forever campaign is about providing the resources to allow Forest Park to thrive for many lifetimes.