Allerton breaks ground on new entrance drive

A $1 million donation will help give Allerton Park and Retreat Center a facelift for one of the more recognizable landmarks in Central Illinois.

The donation by Dave and Debbie Rathje of Decatur will fund a grand entry to the mansion at the Monticello park. The 22-foot-wide concrete driveway will run along the current Gate House carriage lane, where guests would have historically approached the mansion.

“I love Allerton Park, and I love the University of Illinois,” Dave Rathje told a group gathered for the ground breaking ceremony north of the mansion Friday afternoon. “I think we have very good leadership here. I don’t think many other projects are going to move this fast.”

It is one of several large donations that have come Allerton’s way in the last two years, including one announced earlier this month that has helped fund the resurgence of the 400-foot-long bulb garden.

“It is ani mportant event in the life of Allerton Park: the groundbreaking of a new entrance drive to the mansion,” said Derek Peterson, director of Allerton Park and Retreat Center. “Laid out in the 2015 master plan, this project will be an important addition to Allerton and a stepping stone for moving toward the vision of that master plan. Along with the new entrance drive, this project address new walks that are ADA accessible from the parking lot to the mansion, new lighting along the entrance drive and that walk to make the entrance more visible and safe, accessible parking near the house, and new landscape planting to add historical significance to the project.

“More than anything, this project represents Allerton’s commitment to remaining a cornerstone within this great community.”

A major step in that master plan was made possible due to the generosity of Dave and Debbie Rathje, who both have fond memories of Allerton.

“I’d like to personally thank Dave and Debra for being kind, passionate and inspiring people,” Peterson said. “Dave and Debra have made this gift easy on the staff and it’s clear they are longtime fans of the park. They want to showcase their passions and hope it’s contagious.”

It has already influenced new University of Illinois Chancellor Dr. Robert Jones who joined for the ground breaking ceremony.

“With my sincere gratitude, we are very, very grateful and appreciative of all that you do for this great university. This gift, in particular, will make a long-imagined grand entrance a reality. Thank you so much,” Jones told the Rathje’s. “I’ve been at a few universities in my career, and I don’t know of a single university that has such an amazing asset.”

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