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'Serenade' - Jun 20, 2011

The bronze sculpture, Serenade, found in the Kress Oval depicts George Kress playing his violin as wife, Marguerite, listens with a rose on her lap. A bench extends so that garden visitors can join Marguerite in appreciating the beauty of the roses.

by Betty Pearson, Green Bay Botanical Garden Volunteer

Visitors at Green Bay Botanical Garden (GBBG) are compelled to pause and admire the perfectly placed, life-sized, romantic bronze sculpture that presides over the Kress Oval Garden. This tribute, Serenade, is the work of an internationally known sculptor, Dee Clements.  Marilyn Kress Swanson and her husband, Bill, met Clements in Vail Colorado in the 1990’s and admired his work.  When the opportunity arose for gifting the Garden with a special sculpture, the Swanson’s persuaded the rest of the family to consider Clements.  Marilyn recalls, “Once he was commissioned, Dee wanted to know more about my folks, so he came to Green Bay for a few days and really got to know them.”  Serenade, a gift to the Garden from the Kress children and their families, was installed in 1999. All the children and grandchildren have been given tabletop replicas.

This unique piece features George playing his violin as his life-time sweetheart, Marguerite, listens lovingly.  Music was always an important part of the couple’s life.  George was known as an accomplished musician who trained in Chicago and New York.  He started a dance band in Madison and when at home in Green Bay, played with the symphony as well as other trios and quartets.  Marguerite and George met at a dance in Green Bay when both were sixteen.  Marguerite was a natural when it came to dancing.  From that day on, the inseparable twosome’s fondest memories and activities included ballroom dancing. Swanson remembers seeing the sculpture for the first time and thinking, “I knew that they would always be together and now they will be.”

Many cities have statues of founding fathers atop pedestals in parks and on boulevards, but very few communities can boast a sculpture of community stewards that invites interaction.  A former GBBG education specialist started the practice of having school children who were touring the Garden stop, rub Marguerite’s ear lobe between thumb and forefinger, and make a wish.  Many retirees of Green Bay Packaging delight in having photos taken with the image of the former boss and his wife.  The sculpture is impervious to Wisconsin’s weather, enthusiastic children, and the many pictures taken with Serenade.  In fact, the bronze seems to beam from all the attention.

George and Marguerite Kress practiced The Golden Rule and knew the joys that generosity and sharing reap.  Each Kress generation has followed the philanthropic spirit established long ago by George’s father, Frank.  Residents of Brown County have experienced the good fortune of being recipients of the Kress Family’s generosity.  ‘Kress’ is predominant in the names of public buildings, foundations, and non-profit organizations in Brown County and Wisconsin.

George Kress’ life was an impressive collage that exuded excellence in business, entrepreneurship, athletics, music, and philanthropy.  He was a gymnast as a young man and later, with his wife and three children, sailed and skied through many summers and winters. Marguerite died in 1996 and George in 1997. Their gifts of love to each other, their family, and the greater Green Bay area will always be symbolized by their life together as reflected in the sculpture, Serenade.

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