Bill Radler

Resilient rose gives root to donor’s philanthropy

Bill Radler fell in love with roses as a boy, but at the time, it was little more than a hobby and happenstance.

He needed a way to avoid boredom while at his grandparents’ home and their rose catalogs provided that escape. Radler bought and planted his first rose bush at age 9; when it bloomed that year, so too did a new career path.

Radler earned a degree in landscape architecture and spent 23 years with Milwaukee County Parks, including 13 as director of Boerner Botanical Gardens. He now is a full-time rose breeder and full-blown plantaholic.

Radler said there is no perfect rose. However, over the years, he has devoted every spare minute trying to breed the hardiest, most disease-resistant one. From the seedlings he nurtures in his basement to the trial gardens set up in his back yard, every spare corner of his 1-1/2 acre property is part of his “rose boot camp.”

Hybridization is by trial and error, but his results have been a Knock Out®,the official name of the family of roses that he created in 2000. The original Knock Out® is now the most widely-sold rose in the world.

After Radler started receiving royalties from Knock Out® sales, he realized his potential at leaving a legacy. He turned to the Foundation in 2004 to create the William J. Radler Fund because of his familiarity with the support it gave to the Friends of Boerner Botanical Gardens.

“It was less work and less worry,” said Radler, who started the William J. Radler Fund in 1994. “I definitely need that.”

He chose a donor advised fund because it gave him the flexibility with the causes he supports. Radler supports Boerner, the American Rose Society as well as gay and political causes.

"I hope my legacy is letting people know not to hesitate on doing what that little voice inside tells you to do," Radler said. "By seeking that out, you'll be rewarded with enjoyment and you might luck out like I did."