Siblings enshrine educational legacy through gifts to ACES

Two photos side-by-side, each of an older couple posing for a formal portrait.
From left: Hobart Hinderliter, Marian Gardner Hinderliter, Lila Rhodes Gardner, and Leonard Gardner

Education has always been an important value in the Gardner and Hinderliter families. Now, this legacy is enshrined through two gifts from Gardner siblings Leonard and Marian to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  

Leonard Gardner and his wife, Lila Rhodes Gardner, donated their share of the Gardner farm to establish the Leonard and Lila Gardner Illinois Farm Bureau Family of Companies Endowed Professorship in Agricultural Policy. 

Professor Jonathan Coppess was bestowed with this honor in September during the Gardner investiture, recognizing his expertise and contributions to the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE)

Leonard and Lila’s daughter, Kathy Gardner Thomforde, represented the Gardner family at the investiture: “My parents would adore Jonathan,” Kathy said during the ceremony. “He is a talented and committed advocate for agriculture. I am happy that the farmland can continue to benefit people, especially education, which was something so dear to our family.”  

Likewise, Hobart "Hobie" Hinderliter and his wife, Marian Gardner Hinderliter, established the Hobart R. and Marian Gardner Hinderliter Endowed Professorship in Farm Management through the donation of the Hinderliter family farm. 

Professor and associate head of the ACE department Nicholas Paulson was bestowed with this honor in October, recognizing his commitment to ACE and agricultural producers in Illinois and beyond. Hobie and Marian’s children, Alan and Steve represented the family’s gift; their daughter Janet was unable to attend. 

When education is a family tradition

Although neither family’s grandfathers were college educated, largely due to military service during WWI, both grandmothers had college degrees, which was unusual for that time.

Jessie “Louise” Pratt Gardner studied education at Morningside University, located in Sioux City, Iowa, and worked as an educator for many years. Mildred Applebee Hinderliter attended attended Illinois Women’s College, later MacMurray College, where she earned a degree in music, and then led music at Canton schools and played organ at a local church. 

The Gardner and Hinderliter families have followed in their footsteps. 

Hobie attended Illinois, where he participated in ROTC and Greek life. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1951 and a master’s in agricultural education in 1953.    

Marian attended Illinois State University and earned a degree in business education. 

Leonard Gardner and Lila Rhodes both attended Illinois, graduating in the early 1950s with degrees in agriculture and education, respectively. Leonard hoped to take over his family farm back home in Heyworth, but severe allergies redirected his path, so he went on to earn a master’s degree in agricultural economics.

Attending Illinois at the same time, Hobie and Leonard’s paths crossed, and their families became intertwined. Hobie and Leonard were fraternity brothers in Alpha Gamma Rho — their brotherhood was solidified when Hobie married Leonard's sister, Marian, in the summer of 1953. 

Just a year later, Leonard married Lila Rhodes in August of 1954. 

Hobie went on to serve in the U.S. Army in Munich, Germany, after graduation. Upon his return to the U.S., he began his 60-year career as a professional farm manager for Rankin Farms. 

Leonard used his knowledge and passion for agricultural policy, working 36 years with the Illinois Farm Bureau (ILFB) to bridge the gap between farmers and legislators, serving the farming community to which his father belonged. To honor Leonard’s dedication to their organization, the Illinois Farm Bureau made a generous donation to help establish the Gardner professorship in ACES. 

Creating a lasting legacy

The Gardner and Hinderliter families wanted to ensure the value of education their family prioritized was reflected in their gifts. 

“Our parents were firm believers in giving back to the greater community,” said Janet Hinderliter. “They felt that every individual has the capacity to do something positive during his/her lifetime. In fact, their value system went beyond that — they believed that if you were blessed, you have a moral obligation to give back. Because they had received help for college and their college experiences were positive, they chose to give back to education as one of their primary philanthropic gifts.”

Kim Bishop, assistant dean of advancement, said, “The Gardner and Hinderliter family values of education and service shine through these two generous gifts to the College of ACES. Their commitment to fostering knowledge and making a positive impact in higher education is truly commendable, and these contributions undoubtedly leave a lasting legacy.” 

The College of ACES is the grateful beneficiary of more than 6,000 acres of farmland, held collectively by the university and the University of Illinois Foundation. Income from the ongoing operation of gifted farmland serves as a perpetual funding source to support the college’s land-grant mission. To learn more about gifting farmland and other ways to give, contact the University of Illinois Foundation.