Why We Give: JJ and Louise
Remembering and Learning: A Place for Both at The Garden

J.J. and Louise Burke 
J. J. Burke
For J.J. Burke, the Missouri Botanical Garden is both a place to feel close to someone he has lost and a place to foster discovery and learning for people who have since come into his life.

J.J. and his late wife Louise became regulars at the Garden when they moved to St. Louis in 1984. Louise was a home gardener, J.J. says, and he was the “yard man.” With the Garden providing inspiration, the Burkes turned their Creve Coeur yard into a lovely destination.

The research scientist and his wife had traveled for much of their marriage. They visited every state in the union and 89 countries. Louise’s health kept them close to home in her later years, and the Garden was a wonderful place to stroll.

When Louise passed away in 1998, J.J. honored her life by dedicating a signature bronze brick in the Members Entry Court of the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening in her memory, as well as a giant dogwood tree which stands nearby.

“I call it ‘Louise’s tree.’ It brings me a little closer to her when I’m here,” he says. “We had a wonderful life together, and I miss her terribly. But I know she would say, ‘Get on with it, big guy.’“

Get on with it, J.J. has. One of the highlights of each week is “Mr. Jim” day, when he takes identical 6-year-old triplets and their 3-year-old sister on adventures that often include the Garden.

Triplets Abby, Katie and Bridget, and little sister Darcy, are the daughters of Bonnie and Kevin Noonan, J.J.’s longtime neighbors. The Noonans recently moved to accommodate their growing family, but the girls and “Mr. Jim” remain companions.

They set out on adventures all over the metropolitan area, but their favorites include the Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit and events at the Garden, including Gardenland Express, the holiday flower and train show. In the summer, the girls enjoy the Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden.

“The Children’s Garden is tremendous,” J.J. says, “and it’s not just climbing and games. There is a great deal to learn.”

When J.J. and the Noonan girls visit the Garden, they make it a point to find the brick dedicated to Louise and visit her tree. When J.J. visits alone, he’ll sit on a bench near the tree and spend a few quiet moments.

J.J. says he felt so good about the gifts he made in his wife’s memory that he designated the Garden as a beneficiary in his estate plans. “I love so many of the local venues,” he says, “but the Garden is special.”