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Ball State celebrates expansion of orchid greenhouse

Costa Rican plants. Beehive cubbies. A chocolate tree and an eastern box turtle. Much like the tropical banana plant that now touches the conservatory ceiling,  Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse is growing.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony
It was standing room only on June 17 in the new Environmental Education Center that is connected to the original Rinard Orchid Greenhouse by a remodeled and expanded vestibule.

Every seat was filled 15 minutes before the ceremony began, so people began lining the walls. By the time Dr. Maureen McCarthy, dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities, gave opening remarks, the crowd overflowed out of the room and into the vestibule.

In all, more than 250 people gathered to witness the ribbon-cutting on the expanded Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse and the Environmental Education Center.

The new name reflects the growth of the eight-year-old facility, which has a tropical conservatory that has doubled in size, a remodeled entrance, and a new Environmental Education Center for the educational programs that the Ball State Field Station and Environmental Education Center (FSEEC) offers to the public.

The expanded conservatory immerses guests in a simulated tropical rainforest. As guests enter, they are guided on a one-way winding path lined with edible tropical plants and replicas of tropical wildlife, such as metal leaf cutter ants, painted tropical butterflies, a toucan, and the brand-new ocelot. Artwork has been created by Ball State University students and employees, as well as commissioned from local artists.

Everything in the conservatory has a simple black and white label that tells the name and genus of the plant, providing guests with a starting point for either research or a conversation with one of the many well-informed docents of the greenhouse. For example, one of the most striking plants in the expanded conservatory is the Staghorn Fern (Platycerium spp.), an epiphytic fern the size of an overinflated beach ball with large, sterile, brown-green fronds that grip the surface the plant grows on and fertile green fronds, shaped like antlers, that protrude on all sides.

Rather than searching on the internet, a quick question to one of the docents will inform guests that this Staghorn Fern is approximately 28 years old and continuously produces new sterile fronds that wrap around the previous layer of browned fronds, which eventually decompose into fertilizer inside the large ball-shaped structure of the plant.

Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard’s legacy
The expanded Dr. Rinard Orchid Greenhouse and Environmental Education Center was funded through donations from Dr. Joe Rinard; American Electric Power Foundation; Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County; Ball State faculty, staff, and students; Friends of the Orchid Greenhouse; and numerous community members. The expansion furthers public accessibility and learning opportunities for everything that the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse and Ball State Field Station have to offer.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was special for all donors and supporters, but particularly so for one of the Orchid Greenhouse’s most passionate donors: Dr. Joe Rinard, who celebrated his 92nd birthday just a few days before the event.

Dr. Rinard gave the initial substantial donation in 2014 for the construction of the Orchid Greenhouse in memory of his wife, Alice, ’54 MA ’63. Alice Rinard loved nature and all things beautiful, and Dr. Rinard’s continued support of the Orchid Greenhouse honors her passion.

In his comments prior to the ribbon-cutting, Ball State University President Geoffrey S. Mearns said, “Dr. Rinard, through your professional success, your philanthropy, and your passionate support of the greenhouse that bears your and Alice’s names, you help us tell the Ball State story with the passion and the pride that our story deserves.”

Because of his outstanding commitment to the educational work of the Ball State Field Station and Environmental Education Center, President Mearns bestowed on Dr. Rinard one of the University’s highest honors: the Presidential Medal of Distinction. It is awarded by the University president to individuals who have made significant and unselfish contributions to the advancement of the University, community, state, or nation.

“Dr. Rinard’s legacy will live on in his commitment to creating this outstanding greenhouse and to creating more educational opportunities for our students and for members of our community,” President Mearns said.

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