Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Monk Gardens Board of Directors members.

By Shereen Siewert | Wausau Pilot & Review

Monk Botanical Gardens will formally ask Weston’s Tourism Commission next week for funding to support its annual Blossom of Lights festival, as the furor over the organization’s proposed name change shows no sign of slowing.

An agenda for the May 20 Tourism Commission, found at this link, shows the Gardens will request $10,000 from the Weston Room Tax Hold account for the festival, which is set for Sept. 25 through Oct. 26. The Tourism Commission is made up of village trustees, lodging representatives and community members to oversee and approve grants for events that will generate overnight stays and have an overall impact on the economic outlook for Weston.

The application, submitted in February by Monk Gardens Executive Director Darcie Howard, says that the event will promote tourism for the village by adding a Weston hotel to the list of lodgers providing discounts for stays during the event. Rothschild has already committed $5,000, while the Gardens will seek an additional $10,000 each from Wausau and Rib Mountain, the application states, and the event has an overall expense budget of just under $100,000.

Howard and the Monk Gardens Board of Directors have been under fire for weeks after announcing a name change that would omit the “Monk” name from the title. That announcement was met with scathing criticism from the community, with thousands of people signing a petition demanding the Monk name be restored. Among the fiercest critics have been past volunteers and members of the Monk family, who saw the move as a slap in the face to the man who made the gardens possible in the first place.

After digging in for several weeks, the board released a statement on Wednesday that apologized for the move. The board also reversed the decision to rename the facility as Wausau Botanic Gardens, and said the Monk name would be restored.

The statement only prompted more speculation that the change would be temporary. Late Wednesday WSAW-TV quoted board member Paul David as saying “Transitioning to an updated name that includes ‘Robert W. Monk’ will require careful consideration and support. Until that is achieved, ‘Monk Botanical Gardens’ will be the name.”

David, in an email to Wausau Pilot late Friday afternoon, confirmed that the Monk name will indeed stay in place.

“The only name revisions being considered are those that would result in the full name of the Founder ‘Robert W. Monk’ being added to the name,” David wrote. “If that does not happen, the name remains Monk Botanical Gardens.”

Thousands of people have jointed the Facebook group “Save Robert Monk’s Garden,” where reaction has been sharply critical. Thousands of people have joined the group and signs showing support for the Monk name have cropped up at homes and businesses throughout the Wausau area.

Some critics are openly wondering why the Gardens no longer has a horticulturist on staff, a position that was eliminated in November 2023, while at the same time seeking a development director with a salary range between $75,000 and $85,000. Others say the Gardens have strayed far from Monk’s vision for the property, with an plan to add amenities such as a beer garden, outdoor performance area and large visitor center with a coffee shop and gift shop.

Robert Monk IV, son of the man for whom the Gardens is named, told Wausau Pilot on Wednesday his father did not want the space to become a commercial enterprise – or, in his words – “a country fair.” Monk IV said the board was entrusted with a gift to the community and has let the community down.

He is imploring the board to reject turning the gardens into “something it is not.”

“My father wanted the gardens to be a place of serenity, a place to educate children about nature, a place of beauty for the community to enjoy,” Monk IV wrote.

Board member Vicki Richmond-Hawkins, in an email late Friday to Wausau Pilot, rejected the accusation that the master plan for the Gardens is off base. She pointed to an early three-dimensional model of what the Gardens might look like, crafted by Jeremy Berkley, on display decades ago at the Marathon County Public Library, Central Wisconsin Airport and other locations that Monk III was closely involved with as well as visual renderings representing his goals for the property.

Members of the Facebook group are encouraging the public to send letters to Tourism Commission members prior to Monday’s meeting and reject the funding.

Richmond-Hawkins, in her email, pushed back.

“Where have the Monk heirs been for the past 23 years working toward making their dad’s dream a reality?” Richmond-Hawkins wrote. “Many others who live in the greater Wausau area have been working thousands of hours and donating many dollars toward that goal. Why are you trying to destroy these people and organizations’ efforts and discredit them?”

The Weston Tourism Commission meets at 4:15 p.m. Monday at the Municipal Center, 4747 Camp Phillips Road.