June 19, 2024

Mark & Barbara Gerson

Mark and Barbara Gerson spent thirty years building an incredible life on the west coast. Mark worked in the entertainment industry and real estate development, Barbara worked in sales and marketing. They did everything from working in television, to acting, to modeling, writing, music, and traveling… (yes, these two couldwrite a book!). The Midwestern values that Barbara grew up with in Grand Rapids were very influential on how the couple raised their children.

Each year, the Gerson family would make the cross-country trip back to Michigan to visit family and “see the butterflies.” Every time they boarded the plane back to California, the kids would watch the Great Lakes disappear in the window and ask, “Why are we leaving again?”

So, when their daughter, a junior in high school, decided she wanted to follow her passion by attending Interlochen Arts Academy, it was the kick the Gersons needed to pack up and move back to Michigan.

Resettling in West Michigan involved a re-acclimation period, to re-connect with their networks and find their community. With Barbara’s philanthropic heart and musical upbringing, Mark’s immersion in the arts and culture of Mexico City as a young child, and their aligned values around children, education, and creativity, an invitation to a Meijer Gardens event led them right to where they wanted to be.

“I mean, truly, what other museum in the world can you sit in the cafeteria underneath a Chihuly?” Mark shares.

Barbara adds, “Everyone we met was attached to this place somehow! The concerts, the art, the Gardens has a level of sophistication while still having a tremendous feeling of community. It’s never been intimidating here. It’s world class while still being very Midwestern in its community feel.” She goes on to reminisce about a concert they attended at the Gardens, “BB King shared something about being 'cold' mid-concert, and someone tossed a blanket on stage for him. That doesn’t happen anywhere else!”

So began their love affair with Meijer Gardens.

In 2021, the couple attended their first Foundation Society Donor Recognition Event as guests of board member, Amy Keane, and her husband, Jim. In honor of Amy’s birthday, Mark and Barbara made their first substantial gift to the Foundation.

Then in 2023, the Gersons made a pledge to the Foundation that qualified them to become members of the Perennial Society. They want their lasting gift to allow everyone to have the same privilege of accessing the Gardens’ lifechanging experiences.

“Meijer Gardens is a place for experiential learning,” Barbara says. “It’s community and interaction. It’s so critical to have these institutions in our area.”

“We come here in so many different forms: to experience art and architecture, focus on nature’s bounty, attend a benefit for Planned Parenthood, to see Tony Bennett perform for Hospice of Michigan, or attend a concert at the amphitheater. Even our son’s drumline played here once!”

When they aren’t taking in Meijer Gardens activities, Mark and Barbara are spreading their love for art and culture acrossthe world. For instance, they both served as executive producers on a documentary film titled The Hunting Ground. It was well received and had a nationwide premiere across college campuses, cinemas, Sundance and garnered an Academy Award nomination. They also helped create the Scholars Program in the School of Social Medicine at Michigan State, Barbara’s alma mater.

Without a doubt, Mark and Barbara have created an amazing legacy at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Foundation.