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Karen Ranney Wolkins is no horticulturist, but she says she's fitting right in as the new executive director at the Toledo Botanical Garden.
Having just finished her third week on the job, she's developing a feel for the place, has gotten to know her staff, and can find her way around the 60-acre, lushly landscaped civic amenity on Elmer Drive without a guide.
"It's a big learning curve," she said. "But I make progress every day."
And her lack of horticultural expertise is no big deal.
"We have a really strong team of horticulturists, and that enables me to focus on the business side of things and community development and fund-raising," she explained.
She replaces Janet Schroeder, who resigned in January. Mrs. Ranney Wolkins, 47, had been vice president of marketing and development for Sunset Retirement Communities for 11 years when she accepted the botanical garden position, and before that did a succession of marketing stints, including with the Toledo Symphony and The Blade.
Her compensation package is under negotiation.
Mimi Creutz, the botanical garden's board president, said more than 100 applicants nationwide expressed interest in the job, which was the subject of a national advertising campaign.
However, Mrs. Ranney Wolkins, an Ottawa Hills resident, had the skill set, experience, and certain something that board members were looking for, she said.
"I think she brings the skills and experience to help the garden move forward in this difficult economic period. I think she brings a passion to the garden too," Ms. Creutz said.
The botanical garden is described as a public/private partnership of Metroparks of the Toledo Area and the nonprofit botanical garden board. Its land is owned by the city of Toledo, which provides no funding.
The garden dates to 1964, when real estate agent George Crosby donated 20 acres in West Toledo to the city.
Less than 20 percent of the garden's funding comes from the Metroparks. The rest is from memberships, donations, and support from granting organizations such as the Toledo Community Foundation. The garden relies on a corps of more than 500 volunteers, whose services greatly reduce costs.
Mrs. Ranney Wolkins said the relationship with the Metroparks is vital to the garden, and she wants to find more ways to collaborate.
She also said she doesn't believe the community understands the breadth of the garden's activities, which extend to its Artists Village and seasonal programs such as Heralding the Holidays, which offers entertainment and arts and crafts.
She noted that the garden charges no admission, and an estimated 120,000 people visit each year.
"We're one of the few in the country that's free 365 days a year," she said.
Fund-raising will be a large part of Mrs. Ranney Wolkins' duties.
Two years ago, officials unveiled a 20-year, $40 million plan for expanding the garden's offerings and amenities with an eye to quadrupling attendance. Among the many additions envisioned are a conservatory, a new visitors and events centers, a children's garden, and a learning village near Hawkins Elementary School.
"It's phenomenal, all the things going on here," she said. "But we need more support, and I aim to get it."
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