Linda Litt has left a living legacy full of love that’s blooming in the middle of Rock Island.

The Quad City Botanical Center on Friday morning hosted the opening of its new Ability Garden, outside the front entrance, 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island, made possible through the generosity of the Davenport native’s family.

Botanical Center executive director Ryan Wille (left) cuts the garland on the new garden with Christie Minervini and Tina Early, as Tina’s husband Kris, and Rock Island Ald. Jenni Swanson look on (photos by Jonathan Turner).

The center was approached in February 2020 by the family of Linda Litt after her passing, said executive director Ryan Wille. She left a $70,000 gift to the QCBC, “to create a relaxing, quiet, reflective space within the Quad Cities community,” he said.

“That most importantly was accessible to anybody and everybody who wanted to enjoy it,” Wille said Friday. “Despite spending the last portion of her life in Michigan, Linda had strong ties to the Quad Cities, where she graduated from the Lutheran Hospital school for nurses in 1968.”

“We are grateful that her family chose to contribute to our mission here in Rock Island, Illinois,” he said. Litt, a Davenport native, died at 72 on Jan. 23, 2020. Her daughters Christie Minervini and Tina Early graduated from Davenport Central and University of Iowa, and came frrom Michigan for Friday’s “garland cutting” (instead of ribbon cutting).

Linda Litt, a former nurse and avid gardener, died in January 2020 and her memorial was held in July 2021 at the Botanical Center.

“It surpassed my expectations, to be honest with you,” Early said, choking back tears. “Ryan has been fantastic – he took it from concept to creation.”

Coming in and seeing the state of what this looked like prior, the family wanted to meet local needs and memorialize Linda. Early really wanted the gazebo, for events and a place to relax and reflect.

“The most important part was to have anybody, of any ability, to come in and either participate in the gardening, or be able to enjoy it,” she said. “My mother truly loved – it was her passion – she was a giver and a nurturer her entire life, in nursing to the very end, when she was a gardener. It was her passion, the happiest she ever was.”

Minervini is an avid gardener at home (flower perennials). Their first visit to the QCBC was for their mom’s memorial service, in July 2021. “it’s so cool to see; it’s a total transformation, just beautiful,” Minervini said.

“We needed to create a legacy that would live on for her, that she could look down on,” Early said. “And have her spirit live on. Ryan did a fantastic job, keeping us up to date with the construction.”

Ryan Wille speaks at the ribbon cutting Friday morning, Aug. 26, 2022.

“Linda was absolutely the go-to person in every neighborhood she lived in, a giver,” Minervini said. “It’s so appropriate this gift should be given to the community.”

“She never wanted a lot of recognition,” Early said. “I think it would touch her to see that this garden, for the Handicapped Development Center, people with disabilities to enjoy it.”

Their uncle, who lives in Bettendorf, couldn’t make Friday’s event since he has a daughter visiting from Germany.

$140,000 project done within 7 weeks

The $140,000 project was delayed due to COVID, and Wille became executive director in May 2021. The construction started July 5 and was finished less than seven weeks later.

Wille worked with Linda’s daughter Tina, who noted Linda experienced mobility challenges at the end of her life.

The new garden outside the entrance (2525 4th Ave., Rock Island) includes a large gazebo.

“What she missed the most was being able to get hands on, down and dirty, and work in her garden – which had been a source of peace for her, relaxation and calm throughout her life,” Wille said.

Her family wanted to make a beautiful, inclusive space for everyone, tat “excludes nobody, to celebrate her memory,” he said.

The QCBC raised another $70,000 for the garden, from the Roy J. Carver Trust, Regional Development Authority, Moline Foundation, Tri-City Garden Club and an employee matching program through Merck Pharmaceuticals.

The new Ability Garden concept plan was designed by Eric Hornig of Hitchcock Design Group (Naperville) and was constructed by Outdoor Innovations (Aledo). The concept plan was referenced throughout the construction process, as the entire garden was custom built throughout all the steps to ensure appropriate mobility.

The entire garden construction by Aledo-based Outdoor Innovations took less than seven weeks.

Ken Hoffman of Outdoor Innovations used modern design techniques and appropriate materials that include neutral color stone and softer stone material. Sensory-friendly plants will be included in the Ability Garden. Plants and flower beds were planted by friends at Handicapped Development Center and will be maintained by friends at Hand in Hand.

“We believe it is a wonderful example of a true Ability Garden, accessible by all,” Wille said.

“An exceptional project”

“This is an exceptional project and addition to the Quad City Botanical Garden,” said Rock Island Ald. Jenni Swanson.

The QCBC is “truly an amazing part of Rock Island,” she said, noting it opened in 1998. “They have excellent programs for people of all ages and host several Rock Island civic groups for their meetings. My grandchildren love the Children’s Garden.”

Rock Island Ald. Jenni Swanson spoke at Friday’s event.

“The partnership with Handicapped Development Center and Hand in Hand allow their clients to not only enjoy the garden, but to help it grow and flourish,” Swanson said. “The city and myself are grateful for the Quad City Botanical Center for their vision to create and build this Ability Garden – and the foresight to put it outside the gates, so people of all abilities can enjoy it, with no charge, as long as they’d like.

“That truly is a gift to our community,” she said.

“This is awesome,” said Kyle Rodriguez, Hand in Hand’s director of dayhab, noting in past years, their clients in wheelchairs had a hard time getting around the entrance area.. “It’s great to see; it’s great they did this for the community.”

This is part of the socializing “People With Purpose” program, which takes people across the region — including Galena, Peoria, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. They’ve helped out at local Ys, GiGi’s Playhouse and Family Resources, Rodriguez said.

Some empty flower beds (with room for wheelchairs to roll underneath them) are left for planting.

There are empty planting beds that have room for wheelchairs to get under, and annuals will be planted, probably starting next spring, Wille said.

For more information on QCBC, click HERE.