has announced that she will retire in Spring 2010 after nearly three decades as president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. In this interview, she explains her decision, her career high points and challenges, and hopes for the future.
Question: What is your reason for leaving PHS?
At PHS, we live in long-range plans, and I wanted to give the organization plenty of time to plan the transition. I figured age 65 would be a good time to retire, giving the PHS Executive Committee a good amount of time to think about and plan the transition.
Q: What have been your proudest moments at PHS?
One of the things of which I’m most proud is the way we’ve all worked together as a team. We have an amazing group of staff members and an incredible group of volunteers. Watching these groups work with our exhibitors at the Flower Show and with our partners in the community is something that makes me happy every day.
Making the transition with the Flower Show from the Civic Center to the Pennsylvania Convention Center was a big change for us – and a great success.
Also watching the expansion of Philadelphia Green over the past 30 years has been so satisfying. I’m very proud of how we made the transition from just being a neighborhood program to also being a program that could help make our downtown areas more beautiful.
Q: What do you see as your legacy at PHS?
I think it has been the expansion of what my predecessor, Ernesta Ballard (CEO from 1964 through 1980) started. I certainly had admiration for the way that she brought the organization from being fairly unknown to an organization that was recognized for the Flower Show and for the beginnings of Philadelphia Green.
I always remember that when the search committee interviewed me, they asked, “What would you change?” As far as I was concerned, the organization was fabulous the way it was. Now, when I look back over the past 30 years, an enormous amount has changed in the way we do our business around the city – and across the country. The partnership model has become so important for us.
Also, the growth of the Philadelphia Flower Show into the Philadelphia International Flower Show is something that we’ve changed. And the progress that our exhibitors have made is extraordinary. Thirty years ago, daffodils and rhododendrons forced into bloom in March were almost the high point of the Flower Show. Now these amazing exhibitors can force almost everything into flower, and they do it so successfully that we enjoy all kinds of summer-blooming plants at the Show.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges over the past 28 years?
I think the biggest challenge has been keeping the PHS product relevant to the community. Thirty years ago, vegetable gardens were the hot item in the community, and gradually people wanted sitting gardens, tree plantings and parks, not to mention an ever-changing array of educational programs.
The other big challenge is keeping our message clear as to what we are in the community. It’s very hard for people to understand the full array of PHS services. A lot of people think of us as the Flower Show, and a lot of others think of us as Philadelphia Green. Trying to make the connections to all of our programs is always an interesting challenge.
Q: Where do you hope PHS will be five years from now?
I hope that the Philadelphia International Flower Show is a huge, roaring success, and that we continue with the fantastic themes that challenge our exhibitors and intrigue our visitors.
I hope we continue to refine our educational programs for our membership and our community constituents.
And Philadelphia Green has so much to offer the city, particularly in light of Mayor Nutter’s Greenworks program. We have so many opportunities for forging relationships and partnerships.
Q: What does Philadelphia still need from PHS?
We have more than 100 years of expertise, enthusiasm, and trying to make our city green and beautiful.
Also, our programs and activities are very democratic. People can talk about a tomato in their blue jeans or in their evening gowns. I think we can provide that opportunity for people to communicate across a topic, which then brings out other opportunities for them to work together.
Q: What do you plan to do after retiring? Will you continue your connection to PHS?
I very much hope so. I have been approached by a number of organizations, but for the moment I am not making any firm decisions until I see how the PHS schedule works out and how I can help make a smooth transition.
I definitely plan to stay in the Philadelphia area. I love the city, and I would like to play a role in helping our city flourish into the future. That’s my goal.