Special to The Explorer

Joan Donnelly, executive director of Tohono Chul Park, has announced her retirement effective Dec. 31.

Donnelly has served in the post for 14 years, with "enthusiasm and innovation," according to a release from the park.

Donnelly became director in May 1995, during Tohono Chul Park's 10th anniversary year, "a time many considered the peak of the park's growth," the release continued.

"Instead, Donnelly saw what Tohono Chul Park could become: The park is an evolving, dynamic entity."

"If it weren't dynamic, it wouldn't be the Tohono Chul we love," Donnelly said. "It is the journey of evolution that is exciting."

Donnelly guided the park's board and staff through a constituency-driven master plan beginning in 2001 that further developed the park's unique character, including three new signature spaces: Sin Agua Garden, Desert Living Courtyard and the recently completed Sonoran Seasons Garden.

During Donnelly's tenure, Tohono Chul Park experienced many firsts — the first plant sale, "Park After Dark" and holiday nights events, and a members reception. In addition, the park launched its first annual campaign and the completion of its first capital campaign.

Under Donnelly's direction, the Park restated its mission, acquired an additional 11 acres, developed the brand "where nature, art and culture connect," and joined the computer revolution with a point of sales system, dedicated website, online shopping, electronic newsletters and social networking.

There were awards and recognition, too, as the Park became an affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and was named an Arizona Treasure, one of the top 22 Secret Gardens in the U.S. and Canada by National Geographic Traveler, and one of the World's Ten Great Botanical Gardens by Travel+Leisure.

"As Tohono Chul Park moves into its 25th year, all of the board, staff and volunteers extend their heartfelt thanks to Joan for an amazing 14 years and wish her the very best as she discovers another avenue for her talents and energy as a new retiree," said board president Mark Barmann.

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