Longtime members and friends of The North Carolina Arboretum, Jayne Anderson and Larry Weigel have made a significant impact on the Arboretum’s programs and mission through their meaningful contributions in memory of their beloved son Eric Weigel. Inspired by Eric’s kindness, compassion, love for science, photography, nature, and the outdoors, their generous gifts have supported several areas across the Arboretum.

The Anderson-Weigel family attending Eric Weigel’s graduation from Furman University, Greenville, S.C., May 4, 2013. Pictured left to right: Larry, Eric, David and Jayne.

Their funding, in partnership with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation (BRPF), provided support to dedicate the BRPF’s Kids in Parks TRACK Trail along the Arboretum’s Natural Garden Trail in memory of Eric, to add a TRACK Trail distribution feature in the Nature Discovery Room, to print updated TRACK Trail maps, and to create a new TRACK Trail brochure for Willow Pond, which was made available beginning last year.

Additional gifts to the Arboretum in memory of Eric from Jayne and Larry have helped support the construction of Willow Pond and have provided an annual grant that helps fund multiple camperships for students to attend Discovery Camps for Youth while also keeping these scholarship recipients and their families connected to the Arboretum with gift memberships.

“He so believed children need to be out in nature,” Jayne said of Eric, “that it’s good for them on so many levels, and the Arboretum is a perfect place to demonstrate that. What you do with kids at the Arboretum is wonderful, and our connection here aligns with Eric’s values so well.”

Jonathan Marchal, director of education, shared that “The generosity of the Anderson-Weigel family in honoring their son Eric, has done much to raise the visibility of the Arboretum’s TRACK Trail, which in no small part has aided in the Arboretum’s status as one of the top 10 TRACK Trails in the country. Moreover, their gift toward the campership program has allowed children to participate who otherwise would not be able to attend camp due to financial constraints. Our camps focus on nature connection and outdoor recreation. Studies show that children who spend time outdoors have a stronger environmental ethic than otherwise. This gift has enriched not just a single week for children, but has the potential to make a lifelong impact.”

Eric Weigel in a self portrait taken with his camera underwater, Yosemite National Park, Calif., 2011

From a very young age, Eric and his brother David loved to spend time outdoors. Exploring the woods with their family dogs, riding their bikes, and learning about the animals. Their adventures included many family visits to the Arboretum with their parents, Jayne and Larry. “Being able to come to a place like this as a family, knits a family together because you share all of the little things that you see, beautiful things, and you come together; it really contributes to being close,” shared Jayne. “It contributed to Eric being close to his brother. Eric also wanted to learn the science connected with nature and the environment; it expanded his vision of nature.”

“Eric was an extraordinary young man,” said Jayne.  “He was so wise and caring from the time he was very young.  He made us laugh all time. He was always thinking, and he would say things that were quite profound. He realized, as a highschooler, that gratitude was essential for living a happy and meaningful life. He had a gratitude ritual every night where he acknowledged all the things in his day that he was grateful for, and he inspired us to do that as well. Eric taught us so many things.”

Eric‘s connection with nature and the greater world around him continued to grow as he pursued his college studies. Starting as a piano major at Furman University, he switched his major to chemistry, with a goal of pursuing a career in medicine. Jayne and Larry shared that “Eric thought globally. He believed, and often said that we all have a responsibility to take care of people in need, the environment and animals.” Tragically, in June 2013, only a month after graduating Magna cum Laude from Furman University with a degree in chemistry, Eric died in a kayaking accident during a camping trip with friends in Idaho.

Jayne shared that losing one’s child is a parent’s most devastating and unimaginable loss.  “Your heart is forever broken and never heals. It doesn’t matter that it’s been nine years for our family.  There are no words to describe how much we miss him every day. Eric lives in our hearts forever. But for us, it’s not enough for him to just to be in our hearts. If he were here today, he would be contributing to the world, he would be doing things for others because that was just so much a part of his nature.” Larry, Jayne and David feel compelled to keep Eric’s caring and compassionate spirit present in the world in ways that honor his values.

To honor Eric’s memory, his family established the Eric Anderson Weigel Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. Modest annual grants from the fund are given to non-profit organizations, including the Arboretum, that reflect and embody Eric‘s values, volunteerism, passions and life experiences.

“When we learned about the TRACK Trails,” said Larry, “it made sense to us to support a TRACK Trail for children. Though there are many in the area, the main reason that we chose the Arboretum is that the Arboretum is progressive and forward thinking, preserving the natural environment.  We believed that supporting the Track Trail would provide longevity for the mission of the trail. The quality and the upkeep that happens here just seemed perfect.” By providing annual funding for the Camperships/camp scholarship program, Larry shared that “it also means a lot to be able to get kids from the community who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come to the Arboretum and to get their families coming so that it becomes part of their experience and their culture as they grow up.”

Eric Weigel on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 2008

We at the Arboretum are grateful for Jayne and Larry’s support while honoring Eric’s legacy. Their gifts in his memory support programs and spaces for others to find their connections in nature, be inspired and learn, and create special memories here at the Arboretum and beyond.

We are grateful for the Anderson-Weigels and all of our thoughtful donors and sponsors who make the Campership program possible. The Arboretum is committed to making Discovery Camps accessible and getting all kids outdoors and in nature, regardless of family income. If you would like to help more children attend camp please visit our website here.