We had a good turnout for our Virtual Annual Meeting on June 16. More than 70 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.

To begin the evening, retiring Board Member Diane Adachi delivered a land acknowledgement, recognizing that the Arboretum is situated on ancestral lands of the Coast Salish.

Foundation Board President Jenny Wyatt then welcomed our guests and panelists, thanking them for their “engagement and care of this urban sanctuary.”

Jenny reflected on “another unusual year,” and how the pandemic has taught so many about “the multitudinous benefits of nature, and in the case of the Arboretum, nature in an otherwise bustling, stress-inducing city setting.”

VIDEO CLIP: Land Acknowledgment and Board President’s welcome.

Jenny then summarized some the Foundation board’s priorities over the past year:

  • Actively address diversity, equity, and inclusion through specific initiatives and targeted outreach.
  • Engage with our City and UW Partners about potential improvements to the Arboretum’s governance structure, and decide on next steps.
  • Magnify Board engagement in advancement efforts, with an eye on innovative ways to operate during the pandemic.
  • Maintain robust support for horticultural efforts, volunteer activities, and educational programs and ensure measurable progress on the Master Plan and related projects.

She said the Board’s expectation “is to continue our efforts by incorporating these significant areas into a refresh of the Foundation’s 2012 Strategic Plan.”

Jenny then introduced Board Treasurer Peter Rees, who gave a short report on the financial condition of the Foundation. Peter showed a condensed version of our 2019–20 audited financial statements on screen, and said the results for fiscal 2020 were strong, despite the pandemic. “Expenses remained in line with the budget, and we were able to grant $544,000 to UW Botanic Gardens for horticulture and education programs, and an additional $565,000 of support for Arboretum activities. Successful events like the 2020 Opening Night Party, which just squeaked in under the Covid wire, investment gains, and widespread membership support allowed these remarkable levels of support to happen.”

Peter then introduced our new Director of Finance, Brittany Bolstad, who provided a sneak peek at our numbers for fiscal year 2021. She said that the Foundation has given more than $560,000 to our Arboretum partners, including $65,000 to Seattle Parks and Recreation for the restoration of the Japanese Garden Pond.

Peter then introduced our first guest speaker, Christopher Williams, Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Staff at Seattle Parks and Recreation. Christopher spoke about how the pandemic triggered the City’s emergency reponse and how Seattle Parks and Recreation stepped up to become a “vital, essential-mission role player in support of the community.”

He spoke about how “Parks became even more vital as places of outdoor respite from isolation—for people who were sheltering in place.” He also spoke about how his department pivoted to provide essential functions such as emergency shelters at community centers, childcare for essential workers (960+ children), social distancing ambassadors (45,000+ hours), and virtual and mobile programming.

VIDEO CLIP: Seattle Parks and Recreation full update

Christopher said the department’s current campaign, “Welcome Back Seattle,” is focused on reopening summer programs and facilities—such as beaches, wading pools, and spray parks—and welcoming the community back to its public park and recreation system. In the fall, they will reengage the public in a discussion around how the community wants to reprioritize the next tranche of Park District spending.

“This fall is when funding opportunities will be identified, and it really helps when people show up to the meetings and express interest in capital projects, such as those planned for the Arboretum. This is where we will develop the prioritization for the next six-year spending plan.”

Christopher then introduced UW Botanic Gardens Interim Director Ray Larson, who spoke about the pandemic impacts on operations at the Arboretum and Center for Urban Horticulture.

“Visitation to the Arboretum has remained far above pre-pandemic levels in all seasons. However, revenue-generating programs were down over $850,000, so sadly we had to engage in some furloughs and several layoffs, with layoffs primarily in the facility services area.” On the plus side, said Ray, there were no permanent cuts to UW Botanic Gardens in the recently passed state budget, “and that will allow us to rebound fairly quickly.”

Ray then gave a overview of how the education programs have adapted to the pandemic. For example, adult classes moved online, and this allowed for increased attendance and wider audiences.

An exciting development will be the addition of a new, third outdoor classroom for the Fiddleheads Forest School in fall. “One of the things it’ll allow us to do for the first time is offer a full-day option, which will be a great benefit to our working families out there.” The School will also be prioritizing having more balance in the zip codes of its student body moving forward.

VIDEO CLIP: UW Botanic Gardens full update.

After an update on the search for the new director of UW Botanic Gardens, Ray talked about how the three partners are starting to plan for the return of the 28-acre WSDOT Peninsula to the Arboretum at the conclusion of the SR 520 Bridge project.

“With this new land, we will be working closely with the community in how it’s programmed. It will allow us to add more parking, which has been in short supply for many years…. It will also lead to new collection areas, and areas to recognize the land and peoples who have come before us and still are here in our native populations. And it will also enable us to do some restoration of Arboretum Creek…and finally reconnect the creek and a fish-friendly passage for the first time since the early 1900s.”

With that, Ray turned it over to Foundation Board Vice President Mike Riley, who emceed the governance portion of the meeting. This included the nomination and approval of the three new Board members: Lisa Youngblood Hall, Scott Lindsay, and Beverley Song. Mike also bid fond farewell to two departing Board members, thanking them for their exemplary service: Diane Adachi (9 years) and Jan Kirkwood Waszak (3 years).

Foundation staff then gave a short “year in review” presentation, summarizing many of the details featured in our 2021 Annual Report. Events and Corporate Sponsorship Manager Tess Forte spoke about March’s very successful Spring Forward! virtual gala and auction. Retiring Development Director Lee Benner talked about our fall appeal, the new Fred Hoyt Botanical Exploration Fund, the Arborist Challenge, and other fundraising news. “Hopefully, you see the impact of your support each time you visit the Arboretum,” said Lee.

Membership and Annual Giving Manager Talene Shabanian spoke about the 2021 GiveBIG event, as well as our brand new campaign to replace the Tsutakawa Gates, stolen and destroyed at the beginning of the pandemic. Seattle Japanese Garden Program Manager Jessa Gardner provided highlights of the Garden’s 60th anniversary season, including the Kaleidoscope Series of free webinars, the planting of the Hiroshima Peace Tree, and receiving the 2020 Foreign Minister’s Commendation from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Volunteer Resources Manager Alyssa Henry spoke about the suspension and eventual return of the Arboretum’s volunteer programs in 2020–21. “Things definitely look a little bit different now than before the pandemic,” said Alyssa, “but it feels a lot more like the Arboretum again, now that we have our community of volunteers and advocates back.”

Foundation Executive Jane Stonecipher concluded the staff review by reflecting on how the Arboretum was “not a place where time stood still during the pandemic.” And she focused on two case studies to illustrate this: the new composting restroom in the Pacific Connections area and the progress made on the Rhododendron Glen restoration project.

“With these case studies, I hope I am conveying our desire to be good stewards of your funds, by exploring new partnerships, looking for synergy between program and place, renewing our collections and looking for new ways to ensure we are equitably serving all members of our community.”

VIDEO CLIP: Executive Director Jane Stoncipher full remarks.

Jane wrapped up her speech by announcing the recipient of our Volunteer Legacy Award—Board member and former Board President Jason Morse.

“Our award winner this year has been instrumental in contributing to the long-term vibrancy of the Foundation and of the Washington Park Arboretum. A landscape architect by trade and a natural-born tour leader by passion, he has shared his expertise and enthusiasm in countless ways, most recently braving February rains while taping the armchair tour of the Arboretum for our virtual Spring Forward! gala.”

Jenny Wyatt made the concluding remarks, “As I adjourn this meeting, and as the pandemic eases, let’s set our sights on being together in person at Graham Visitors Center for next year’s Annual Meeting, where instead of clicking ‘leave’ on our screens, we’ll come together for sandwiches, refreshments, and good conversation. I look forward to that!”

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