We had a good turnout for our Virtual Annual Meeting on June 17. More than 60 Arboretum Foundation members tuned into the Zoom webinar to hear about our fiscal-year accomplishments, listen to updates from our UW and City partners, and participate in our Board of Directors election. Apart from a couple of audio glitches near the beginning, the meeting proceeded smoothly.

Outgoing Board President Jason Morse welcomed our guests and panelists remotely from his home, saying “although we aren’t able to offer the sandwiches, glasses of wine, or in-person camaraderie that typically makes these events so special, here all of you are, showing up to support this amazing place as you always do.”

Jason reflected on the current pandemic, as well as other difficult periods in recent history, saying that “this remarkable place of beauty, serenity, and grace is more important, not less, during times like these…[and] the Arboretum has a central role to play as a vital source of healing, togetherness, and hope for our community.”

Jason talked about how all of us who love the Arboretum—from donors to volunteers to staff—have stepped up during the lockdown to give our support. He thanked the Foundation staff led by Jane Stonecipher for “moving the organization forward with calm and steady resolve while the ground has shifted almost daily under their feet.” He also discussed the progress of the Governance Task Force, convened in February, which is looking to the future and examining how we might best work with our City and UW partners to serve the Arboretum.

Then, Jason introduced Board of Directors Treasurer Missy Ward, who gave a short report on the financial condition of the Foundation. Missy showed a condensed version of our 2018–19 audited financial statements on screen, and said the results for fiscal 2019 were strong. “Expenses remained in line with the budget. We were able to grant $663,000 to UWBG for horticulture and education programs in the Arboretum. This is an increase of $326,000 over the prior year grants.” She also mentioned a $60,000 gift to the City to help with major restoration of the north pond in the Japanese Garden.

Missy then introduced our first guest speaker, Christopher Williams, Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Staff at Seattle Parks and Recreation. Christopher spoke about the importance of keeping City parks open for public use and as gathering places for free speech—even in the face of tough maintenance challenges presented by intense use and the lockdown of many Parks’ staff.

Christopher also wished the Seattle Japanese Garden a happy 60th birthday. He called the Garden a “special place, not just for its tranquility and nearly mythical, eat-on-command koi,” but also as an example of the wonderful partnership between the City, Arboretum Foundation, and University of Washington. He said we’re hoping to open the Garden soon, following social distancing guidelines from the Governor and Seattle & King County Public Health.

Christopher then introduced our next guest speaker, UW Botanic Gardens Director Fred Hoyt, who began by thanking Jason Morse for acknowledging (at the beginning of the meeting) his recent receipt of the UW College of the Environment’s Outstanding Community Impact Award. Fred talked about how the UW horticultural crew are now back to pre-COVID 19 levels. They were “designated as critical staff to make sure we are not falling behind in the Arboretum.”

Fred then discussed the UW’s safety protocols for preventing the spread of the virus, as well as plans for reopening based on state and university guidelines. He talked about a potential 15% state budget cut due to COVID-19, as well as the complete loss of rental revenue that UW Botanic Gardens has incurred from building closures at the Arboretum and Center for Urban Horticulture.

“I continue to work closely with Jane on all the budgets,” said Fred. “We are collaborating and trying to figure out the best ways to support the Arboretum.”

Fred did have some good news to share on the education front, including plans for summer camps to proceed (with much-reduced student numbers) and a near-approved outdoor preschool license for Fiddleheads, which will increase opportunities for the program when it reopens. Fred also provided a progress report on the restoration of Rhododendron Glen.

Foundation Board VP Jenny Wyatt then emceed the governance portion of the event, which included the nomination and election of four new members to the Foundation Board of Directors: Bill McGee, Tyler Moriguchi, Bowman Neely, and Joanna Thiagarajan. Jenny also bid fond farewell to four departing Board members, thanking them for their exemplary service: Joan Affleck-Smith (3 years), Sherrey Luetjen (9 years), Heidi Richardson (3 years), and Skip Vonckx (16 years).

Normally, said Jenny, each of our departing Board members would come to the meeting podium and receive a special gift. This year, the gifts (of flowers) were “socially distanced delivered to their homes.” Voting took place electronically, and all meeting attendees were invited to participate.

Next up, Foundation Executive Director Jane Stonecipher read a special proclamation thanking Jason for his dynamic and very successful three-year tenure as Board President. Here’s a sampling:

He has been a proud protector
of the flowering trees and woody plants of the collection
and a talented orator in sharing their stories.
His has been a visionary voice in looking to the future…
His has been a time of progress that will endure.”

Foundation staff then gave a short “year in review” presentation, summarizing some of the details featured in our 2020 Annual Report. Events Manager Tess Forte spoke about February’s wildly successful “Flower Power” Opening Night Party and introduced new members of the Foundation staff. Development Director Lee Benner talked about the Arborist Challenge, which raised $70,000 in 2019–20 for our tree care program in the Arboretum.

Departing Board VP and member of the Japanese Garden Steering Committee Skip Vonckx talked about the Seattle Japanese Garden’s stellar 2019, which included record attendance at the gate, sold-out events, and a rich assortment of free programming. He also spoke about how we adapted some of the 60th anniversary celebrations to a digital format and about the plans for reopening the Garden, with new timed ticketing services and one-way path directions to allow for social distancing.

Volunteer Resources Manager Alyssa Henry spoke about the record fundraising generated by our volunteer-run nurseries, plant sales, and gift shop in 2019. She also talked about the success of the Garden Stewards and Corporate Service Program, which saw record number of volunteers out on the grounds, maintaining the plant collections. Alyssa then highlighted this year’s efforts at the Arboretum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day—through our award-winning, conservation-themed display at the 2020 Northwest Flower & Garden Show; a renewed commitment to sustainability, climate resilience, and environmental stewardship; and more.

Jane Stonecipher concluded the staff review by reflecting on the challenges ahead—both in terms of the logistics for reopening the buildings, parking lots, and programs at the Arboretum and Japanese Garden and the financial health of our operations. “The support of our members and donors will be vitally important as we transition back to normal—or the new normal, as the case may be. Your favorite non-profits are going to need you in very foundational ways the next six months.”

On the upside, special projects with restricted funds already secured—such as the restoration of Rhody Glen—will continue. And there’s another potential project we’re focusing on, said Jane: the replacement of the Tsutakawa Gates, stolen from outside the Visitors Center one week into the closure. “Some donors have proactively expressed interest, and the Foundation hopes to be able to support this effort. Wouldn’t that be a great symbol of resiliency for the community!”

Sherrey Luetjen at home displaying her Volunteer Legacy Award apron.

Jane wrapped up her speech by announcing the recipient of our Volunteer Legacy Award—Sherrey Luetjen, whose nine years of service on the Board included three (2014–17) as President. Said Jane, Sherrey has been described as “the rudder of the Foundation, steadying the course and pointing the ship in the right direction. A lawyer by trade, she has helped the Foundation reach the highest possible level of professionalism, efficiency, and ethical standards.”

To conclude the meeting, outgoing Board President Jason Morse executed a perfect virtual “passing of the gavel” with incoming Board President Jenny Wyatt. He then made a toast to everyone who supports this special urban green space and plant collection: “Here’s to a time when we can all see each other in person again, give each other a hug, and take a walk in the Arboretum together.”

A big thank to everyone who joined us and participated in the meeting.