The family of David Page at the garden's dedication
The family of David Page at the garden’s dedication

In a spot teeming with flowers along the Detroit River just east of the bridge to Belle Isle, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy on June 10 dedicated an already-existing butterfly garden in Gabriel Richard Park to the memory of David K. Page, a man largely responsible for the transformation of the Detroit riverfront from a barren industrial wasteland to the welcoming landscape it is today.

A garden attracting a creature that transforms itself over time into a beautiful winged creature is perhaps the best way to memorialize the attorney and philanthropist, who passed away in 2014 at age 80.

Page left behind a legacy of volunteer and leadership roles in many Jewish and secular nonprofit organizations. His wife, Andrea Page of Birmingham, said that out of all his volunteer endeavors, the one that gave him the most satisfaction was his work as a founding member and funder of the Riverfront Conservancy. And he watched the riverfront blossom from the 22nd floor of the law offices of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, where he was a partner.

Andrea Page said the understated nature of the butterfly garden suitably fit her late husband’s demeanor. She described her husband as a “pragmatic dreamer.” From the very beginning of the conservancy, she said David made sure it was funded with just the right combination of public and private contributions to maintain it for generations to come.

“David did more in his years than most of us do,” Page said. “The most beautiful legacy he left to all of us is the work he did along the Detroit River. He saw the capacity it had to regenerate and renew the life of this city. In my husband’s memory, I invite all to come down and enjoy this gem, our city’s riverfront.”

The Riverfront Conservancy started in 2003 with a $50 million Kresge Foundation grant. It was the largest sum of money ever given by the foundation, where Page was serving as a board member at the time. From there, the Conservancy continued to raise funds to develop parks and green spaces along the 5.5-mile stretch of the river between the Ambassador Bridge and Gabriel Richard Park near Belle Isle.

The Riverfront projects continue to grow, with this spring’s completion of the 1.35-mile Dequindre Cut greenway to Eastern Market.

“We started to look at how we could best make a major difference in the city beyond our sustaining contributions,” Page said in a JN profile story (March 23, 2012) that highlighted his numerous community leadership roles, including presidencies at both Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

“Ten years ago, our riverfront was broken sidewalks and streets, cement silos spewing dust, vacated industrial buildings,” he recalled. “Now, on a nice spring or summer day, you see nice parks and walkways with people biking, walking and fishing with their kids.”

The butterfly garden, Page’s brainchild, contains winding paths that allow visitors to closely observe the plants and flowers that attracts butterflies, birds and other creatures.

“This spot was one of David’s favorite places along the riverfront,” said Marc Pasco, Riverfront Conservancy director of communications. “He believed in universally giving back to Detroit, and his dedication to the Riverfront Conservancy is just one place where his presence is sorely missed.”

By Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer