When the Orono Rotary Club announced plans last fall to lead the building of an outdoor classroom on the Orono schools’ campus, great things happened.


First, a long-time wish of many teachers and educators who have had a vision for using and enhancing this unique space located near the shores of Lake Claussen west of the stadium on the school’s main campus was finally becoming a reality.  And second, a family who has long desired to create a special memorial for their son finally had an opportunity to realize their vision.


And so, at the Orono School Board meeting held April 8, an agreement was accepted to name the nature preserve area as the “Oliver Grieb Abbott Environmental Learning Center” in memory of Oliver Abbott who died at the age of four and a half in June of 2005.  The Orono schools have also agreed that the outdoor classroom being constructed on that site will be named the “Orono Rotary Learning Pavilion.”


“Over the years there have been many who have worked on making this a reality,” said Karen Orcutt, the Orono School’s Superintendent.  “The dream has taken different forms with different originators,” she said.  “But then Orono Rotary stepped up to make this happen and stick with the project through its many ups and downs.”


When the Abbott family learned of the project, from their friend John Quinlivan, they along with Oliver’s grandmother Patricia Grieb Abbott, stepped forward with funding offers as a tribute to Oliver.


In an emotional address to those gathered, Willi Abbott thanked everyone involved in making his dream come true. Speaking on behalf of his wife Kimberli, their three children, Morgan, Henry and George all of whom were in attendance, Willi expressed, “While everyone here is thanking us, it is our family that is grateful for the wonderful gift you have given us. This memorial to “my little buddy” is creating a space that will honor him and keep his memory alive, an honor that will last many lifetimes.” He later stated, “Kim said it best, ‘This is perfect, it’s where Oliver is, outside, where I feel him most.’ That’s where he is for me too.”


Roland Aberg, a nationally renowned landscape architect and community resident, designed the pavilion with an eye to future expansion to make the nature preserve a truly glorious place. Aberg and his architectural firm, Hart Howerton, along with Orono art instructor Jo-Anne Kirkman, have also been instrumental in designing and installing a series of trails and viewing platforms in the nature preserve area.


“This is a shining example of what happens when civic, community and private enterprise all work together for the greater good,” said John Malone, Chair of the Orono School Board.  “I can’t help but believe this will serve as a model for other schools and organizations to follow.”


“This project is the result of many supporters, and will be a wonderful addition for our children that will enhance the learning experience for generations to come, “ said Mike Fleitman, Orono Rotary President.  “We are within $7,500 of our initial funding goal for this $100,000 project.  The footings and posts went in last fall, and we should finish building this spring.  So there are still ways to get involved and funding needs to help finish the project.”


Orono Rotary’s efforts to fund construction of the pavilion have been aided by grants from two other area Rotary clubs from Wayzata and Plymouth, as well as Rotary district matching grants, generous donations from Lake Community Bank, the Orono Class of 2012 and a number of individual donors.  Additional donations are being sought to complete and enhance the project.  


In connection with its fundraising efforts, Orono Rotary has established four recognition levels: Partnership Donors ($5,000+), Pillar Donors ($1,500+), Foundation Donors ($500+), and Supporting Donors ($150+).  While donations of any amount will be gratefully accepted by the Orono Rotary Foundation, donors in these categories will be recognized permanently at the pavilion site.  For more information, contact Rotary members Mike Fleitman at or Bob Tunheim at