Houston Philanthropist Franci Neely Honored for $250,000 Hermann Park Donation
Franci Neely, a longtime supporter of the Hermann Park Conservancy, was recently recognized for a $250,000 donation she made as a tribute to her grandchildren Emma, Beau, and Ford Thompson. The gift will fund an interactive water-play feature for children. Named The Bayou, it will offer a variety of water activities for future generations of Hermann Park visitors. The donation will also help fund the Commons, a 26-acre area in the southwest section of the park that will enhance natural habitats and provide better access for the neighboring Texas Medical Center and Rice University.
In March 2022, Franci Neely was the honoree for the conservancy’s Hats in the Park, an event she’s supported annually since it began in 2008. Established in 1914, the park has given Houstonians more than 100 years of memories, according to hermannpark.org.
“This year marks 30 years since Hermann Park Conservancy was founded,” conservancy board chair Kristy Bradshaw told Houston CityBook. “And since then, the improvements they’ve overseen can’t be understated. However, there’s so much more in store for Hermann Park and it’s just on the horizon.”
Hermann Park Demonstrates a History of Inclusivity
Hermann Park has a history of being welcoming to all children and families. One of the park’s earlier board members, Keith Wade, grew up during a time when segregation was still prevalent in Houston. However, Hermann Park was always a safe space for him. Before he died in 2020, the former public servant and adviser to the mayor shared his thoughts on the park in a YouTube video. “When I was growing up, Houston was a segregated society but the one thing I was able to do was come to Hermann Park and play with kids of all shades, colors, backgrounds, and religions,” Wade said. “We all fed the ducks. This park gave people the opportunity to be in the same space in this great city and learn how to get along. All of the improvements that we’ve made in this park would not have happened without the input from the community and the contributions and volunteer hours.”
Hermann Park Conservancy was founded 30 years ago, and Hermann Park Conservancy executive committee member Phoebe Tudor stated in a YouTube video, “These kinds of spaces are becoming more and more precious to us as the city grows denser.”
The luncheon, which brought out more than 370 guests, raised $493,537 to benefit Hermann Park. With more than 6 million visitors annually, the park offers a variety of recreational options including the Hermann Park Railroad, gardens, and pedal boats.
“I was honored by the Hermann Park Conservancy along with my great friend Sandy Godfrey because I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of Hermann Park,” Franci Neely says. “It’s a beautiful park in the central part of Houston near my home. It is an artery that means a lot to many different types of people. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States.”
Franci Neely Shares the Art of Giving Back
Neely says the park is so dear to her that she’s eager to share the space with locals and visitors alike. “Any given day, you can see that [diversity] epitomized in Hermann Park,” she says. “So that’s why I’m so happy to be a supporter of that beloved green space.”
Franci Neely was also a benefactor for Hermann Park Conservancy’s “Art in the Park” exhibits during Hermann Park’s centennial. In honor of the park’s 100th birthday in 2014, artwork was placed in Hermann Park to enrich the culture there, according to the Hermann Park Conservancy’s website.
“I view it as almost a moral obligation when one has been fortunate, and I have been fortunate in terms of money,” Franci Neely says. “Money can’t buy you love, but it can give you an ability to ideally improve things for the other. So that’s really the impetus that it is important to me to do that in meaningful ways.”