Love of Plants Leads to Legacy Gift for Cornell Botanic Gardens
Howard Greenberg ’76 says that he grew up in the “concrete jungle” of New York City. As a student at Cornell, he didn’t often venture far from the engineering quad and central campus. He didn’t know much about Cornell Plantations—now Cornell Botanic Gardens—until he started returning to Ithaca as an alumnus and exploring the greater campus.
“Each time I come back, I try to visit places I haven’t been before,” he said. “There’s always something new in the gardens and arboretum, and I love seeing the changes in the plants and trees from season to season and year to year.”
Howard’s appreciation of plants and nature has grown through the years since he graduated from Cornell. His first job as a chemical engineer was at ARCO Chemical Research Center in Newtown Square, PA (a Philadelphia suburb). Mostardi’s garden center was within walking distance, and he spent many lunch hours wandering through its nursery. He was so intrigued by the wide variety of plants, their characteristics and uses that he began gardening at home and studying horticulture books. He visited local arboretums and botanic gardens, and even started a landscaping business, “Greenthumb,” to design and install plantings on weekends for friends and work colleagues.
For a time, Howard flirted with the idea of applying to landscape architecture programs. But, he said, “I didn’t want my interest in plants and garden design to be ‘tainted’ by having to make a living at it!” So he went on to medical school as planned, and pursued a career in clinical pharmacology research, using his pre-med and chemical engineering studies at Cornell as the springboard.
Among his favorite places at Cornell Botanic Gardens is the Robison York State Herb Garden, where he enjoys reading the detailed plant labels in the theme beds. As a clinical pharmacologist, he’s fascinated by the use of botanicals for medicinal purposes, and finds the study of their centuries-long use just as compelling as today’s discoveries of the benefits of plant-derived compounds for modern-day pharmaceuticals.
As he became more familiar with our living collections, Howard began directing a portion of his annual fund gifts to Plantations, and now to the Botanic Gardens.
“I realized that this is a unique part of Cornell University that really needs alumni support,” he said. “It’s open to all, and explicitly espouses diversity in its mission, but it doesn’t have income from tuition, or major grants or contracts for research.”
Thus, when he turned 60 and started thinking about charitable gifts to include in his estate plan, he decided he wanted to help Cornell Botanic Gardens maintain its horticultural collections, and also promote further understanding and interest in medicinal plants among students and the general public.
Howard took about two years to investigate various retirement and estate planning options, and to determine what would be best for himself and his wife, Joanne.
“I received information about life income gifts from Cornell’s Office of Trusts, Estates, and Gift Planning, and it sounded almost too good to be true,” he said. “If you want to support a charity, a gift annuity or remainder trust has the benefits of an immediate income tax deduction on your donation, legally avoiding capital gains tax on appreciated assets, and providing you (and your family) with a life-long stream of income in retirement.”
In conjunction with his 40th reunion in 2016, Howard made a gift of appreciated stock to Cornell to establish a charitable remainder trust. He is now receiving quarterly beneficiary payments from the trust, an income stream that will continue through his and Joanne’s lifetime. When the trust terminates, 60% of the remaining funds will create an endowment that will support maintenance, enhancement, and educational use of the Cornell Botanic Gardens’ horticultural collections, with an emphasis on plants that have medicinal properties or uses. The balance of the trust proceeds will benefit two of his other favorite charities: the Animal Alliance of New Jersey (where they adopted their beloved dog, Bosco) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County (PA).
Reflecting on his Cornell experience, Howard said, “Cornell had a major, formative impact on my life—in both my professional career and my personal life.” He’s maintained several life-long friendships among his classmates, and has long been an active volunteer for the university, making many more friends through his involvements with the Cornell Alumni Admission Ambassadors Network, the Cornell Club of Greater Philadelphia, and Cornell University Council.
When asked if he has any advice for other donors who are thinking about gift planning, Howard said, “First you should think about what your goals are philanthropically, what kind of a legacy you want to create. Start with your own mission and values, formulate some goals, and then create plans and actions to try to fulfill those goals. Consider your financial needs and the planned gift options that will have the most benefit for you and your family. The trust and estate officers at Cornell were a big help, and I also worked closely with my own estate attorney.”
Summing up his feelings, Howard said, “For me, I now have a much greater appreciation for plants, how they provide us with food, shelter, beauty, and medicinal benefits. Plants are essential to our life on Earth, particularly in this era of climate awareness, threats to our environment, and species conservation. I’m very happy that my gift will support the Botanic Gardens’ mission of promoting conservation, education, and cultural as well as biological diversity.”