David Porter exits Executive Directorship at Leach Botanical Garden

Read here about David Porter’s thoughts about leaving the Leach Garden Friends organization, and his plans for the future …

About a year after joining Leach Botanical Garden, in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood along the edge of Powellhurst-Gilbert in outer East Portland, Leach Garden Friends Executive Director David Porter recalled the achievements of that past year at their annual dinner.

Story and archive photos by David F. Ashton

Over a decade ago, on September 10, 2010, David Porter started a new professional adventure – when he accepted the Executive Director position at Leach Garden Friends, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for Leach Botanical Garden, owned by Portland Parks & Recreation.

Porter retired from that position this January; but before he left, he granted East Portland News a personal interview.

At the 2015 fund-raising “Leach Spring Plant Sale” held at Floyd Light Middle School in the Hazelwood neighborhood, we found David Porter, and perennial volunteer Nana Bellerud.

Looking back over the past decade, Porter mused, “Leach Garden Friends (LGF) has grown into a more mature and professional organization – with staff, structures, and procedures comparable to the other prominent gardens in our city, and around the country.

“We have gone from doing the vast majority of the work with volunteers, to now having people who are botanical garden and education professionals,” Porter observed. “I was given the charge of working towards that end when I started at the Garden; and we’ve succeeded in marching down this road.”

The group’s observable, “on the ground”, accomplishments since 2010 include a successful capital fundraising campaign, and creating a new Master Plan for building new facilities at the Garden – giving it the ability to serve greater numbers of visitors, in several new and different ways, he said. “We will open Phase 1 of those new facilities this spring – and we believe it will set the stage for stepping up to the next phase.”

In May, 2015, we found David Porter busy engaging the community to help envision the future of the Garden.

Leach ‘Upper Garden’ project challenges
As early as 2012, Porter led an effort to develop seven acres in the undeveloped section of the Upper Garden, north of the Manor House. These improvements included a new entrance, public use areas, and botanical displays – as well as a formal link to the historic Garden.

This was later officially named the “Upper Garden Project: Aerial Tree Walk & Pollinator Garden”; and its construction began in early 2020.

CLICK HERE to read our most recent update on the Aerial Tree Walk & Pollinator Garden project, with links back to previous articles about the project.

David Porter stands with one of the biggest supporters of the Upper Garden Project – the late City Commissioner Nick Fish, a two-time Portland Parks Commissioner.

“The biggest challenge involved in the Upper Garden Project was creating confidence that our small organization could actually make the ‘big lift’ – could raise enough money for the project,” Porter recalled. “When we began, we had never raised more than only tens of thousands of dollars at a time. But, for this project, we raised $1.27 million dollars from a variety of sources.”

That money was matched with institutional funds from Portland Parks SDC capital project money, METRO Nature in Neighborhood funds, and Prosper Portland Community Livability funds.  “The resulting civic investment – both public and private – in such a public cultural and natural resource in East Portland was unprecedented; and we hope it was a signal for more development in the future.”

In August, 2019, David Porter welcomes a sculpture installation named “Contemplative Place” to the Leach Upper Garden.

Following the values of Lilla and John
Behind all of their efforts to develop the Garden was the spirit of the couple who gifted their home, along Johnson Creek, to the people of Portland, Porter acknowledged. “Lilla and John Leach left us more than just the physical garden and buildings; they gave us an example, by expressing their values. In the past ten years our organization has focused on incorporating those values into our plans and programs.

Continuing on, in support of the Garden, are L.G.F. Board of Directors President Irene Bowers and Board Member Gay Greger. LGF images

“Irene Bowers and Gay Greger, of the L.G.F. Board of Directors, have been stalwart leaders through the entire time I have worked at the Garden,” Porter reflected; “Contributing in ways much beyond what’s usually expected from board members,

“As I leave, we do have the best, most diverse, and strongest board ever; plus staff who are extraordinarily committed to the Garden’s mission. By the way, multiple staff members started as volunteers – but grew their skills and passion to become anchors of our growth.”

He told East Portland News that he’ll miss working with the many volunteers he’s gotten to know through the past decade. “Now, many of the volunteers, who were fixtures here at the Garden, are no longer able to be active in our work – we’re glad when some return to visit during special events – and others sadly have passed away. We honor memories of all of them, going back to the opening of the Garden in the early 1980s.”

Listening to the needs of their communities has been key to helping the Garden progress, David Porter says.

Most proud of serving the community
“I am proud that our organization has been willing to look at itself honestly, and to reconsider who it serves, and its commitment to the well-being of our community,” Porter remarked. “The organization has become passionate about fulfilling the vision: that it would no longer be a ‘secret’, known only to a few.”

In addition to the new construction project, they organization has also established initiatives that are “opening the doors of ‘science and conservation learning’ among the youth of our very diverse communities,” Porter said. “As part of that process, our organization has made commitments to being itself more diverse – acting to become more inclusive and equitable. We are not done with that process, but we have made a solid start.

Promising to “stay connected” with Leach Botanical Garden is going director LGF Executive Director David Porter.

Has found his tenure rewarding
“I have been privileged to be the Director in four organizations over a forty-year career in nonprofit organizations,” Porter concluded. “My ten years at Leach have been the most rewarding and magical of them all, because this place really is ‘like no other’ – as our slogan says.

“The opportunity to encourage good people to be active participants in our efforts, to imagine and then build a more engaging and welcoming garden, and to be given permission to lead the organization, have all brought me joy and satisfaction.

“I am not gone from Leach,” Porter assured. “My heart is partly-rooted with ‘K. leachiana’ and watered with droplets from Johnson Creek! So, I will stay connected.”

Plans for an active future
About his plans, going forward, Porter announced, “I am hoping that I can return to writing a book I started, ten years ago. I have six grandkids to help wrangle. I have a mural to paint of Mt. Rainier in our dining room – Mary is tired of the one that’s there now. I am transcribing journals from my five months’ backpacking through Europe in the 1970s. And I’m still playing ‘old man’ soccer.

“And, Mary and I plan to travel, once we’re clear of COVID-19, to see lots of friends and relations we haven’t visited in the past ten years.”

Nationwide search for new Executive Director
The L.G.F. board, staff, and volunteers performed an internal organization assessment to identify its strengths and weaknesses, and came up with a list of characteristics they wanted for a new L.G.F. Executive Director, Porter confided about the hiring process this year.

Nationwide advertising has produced a pool of some 50 applicants who were reviewed by a panel made up of board, staff, and volunteers. “We winnowed the numbers down to eight very-qualified folks, and arranged interviews; two candidates stood out – both of whom we brought to the Garden for extensive interviews.

“We reached a unanimous vote – the position was offered to Mae Lin Plummer, and she accepted.”

Welcome the new LGF Executive Director, Mae Lin Plummer. Courtesy of LGF

Starting in February, Mae Lin Plummer has become the new Leach Garden Friends Executive Director. Plummer spent nearly 20 years in the corporate financial industry, until discovering her passion for horticulture and public gardens.

Plans are, if the pandemic allows, to reopen Leach Botanical Garden in March; and whenever it opens to the public again, Plummer will certainly be on hand to welcome folks back to their unique spot in outer East Portland – a “Place like No Other”.

CLICK HERE to visit the Leach Botanical Garden website.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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